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New federal funds could fuel Delaware tech, revitalization projects

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Economic Development Administration Assistant Secretary Craig Buerstatte EDA Tech Hubs Recompete

Economic Development Administration (EDA) Assistant Secretary Craig Buerstatte, center, poses with Delaware leaders following the April 18 roundtable in Wilmington. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – A top leader in the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) visited Delaware on Tuesday to discuss opportunities for new grant funding that could assist nonprofits and organizations advancing tech industries and disadvantaged areas.

Craig Buerstatte, the deputy secretary for regional affairs of the federal office under the U.S. Department of Commerce, chaired a roundtable with about two dozen Delaware leaders from around the state at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. The meeting was one of a number being held by EDA leaders around the country in recent months to publicize funding under newly appropriated grant programs.

Authorized under the CHIPS & Science Act passed last summer and funded with initial appropriations in December’s spending bill, the EDA is pushing new grants in the Recompete pilot program that will invest in persistently distressed communities to create and connect workers to good jobs and the Tech Hubs program that aims propel regions with assets, resources, capabilities, and potential into globally competitive centers of the technologies and industries of the future.

Economic Development Administration Assistant Secretary Craig Buerstatte EDA Tech Hubs Recompete

Economic Development Administration Assistant Secretary Craig Buerstatte listens to a local leader during a discussion of the Tech Hubs program. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Buerstatte said that Delaware was well poised to benefit from both programs.

In Tech Hubs, he believed that the state’s work in the fintech sector in particular could be a strong applicant for federal funding to help advance its work. Regions will need to apply for project designation in that program in the next few months, with 20 projects being approved for strategic planning funding and about five receiving project funding after a Phase II round.

“The Tech Hubs program is about creating globally competitive markets and hubs for the nation. We want to build successful thriving diverse hubs of economic opportunity outside of key marketplaces and Delaware could absolutely be a spot for that,” Buerstatte told Delaware Business Times.

Several economically disadvantaged areas of the state could qualify for Recompete funds as well. While maps of eligible areas and a program fact sheet haven’t been published yet, Buerstatte said they are based upon labor market participation in the prime age employment years, or ages 25 to 54.

“We want to address those markets where there’s just lower labor market participation; we want to create job opportunities for those markets,” he said.

Notably, Tech Hubs, which received $500 million from Congress, and Recompete, which received $200 million, are just first installments. The programs have authorizations of $10 billion and $1 billion, respectively, meaning Congress will be watching for results to appropriate future funds, Buerstatte said.

“I hope we can gain some quick evidence for this type of work and receive future appropriations to see its full potential,” he said.

Among those listening Tuesday were Rob Herrera, a real estate developer and founder of The Mill coworking space, who is working on a major revitalization project in Seaford, and Alok Patel, assistant director of the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals in Newark (NIIMBL). They both thought they could be part of teams that apply for the EDA’s funding.

Although NIIMBL has received millions in federal funding, the money is primarily a pass-through for other projects around the country, Patel explained.

“We’re like a mechanism for innovation to occur and spur workforce development, and we are grateful for the state dollars that helps support our own infrastructure. Otherwise, none of that happens,” he said.

Receiving funding through Tech Hubs could allow NIIMBL to scale up its own staff and operations in the region, advancing the region’s life-changing biopharmaceutical production.

Herrera said that he was excited to see federal officials visiting the state in person and meeting with officials to hear their thoughts on the programs and how they can match programs with them. He noted that representatives from some of the smaller jurisdictions noted that they don’t have the same grant writing capabilities as their larger counterparts and hoped that wouldn’t be counted against them in the awarding of grants.

They discussed how collaboration between partners to show investment in a project would be helpful – something that Herrera said he has seen happening more in Delaware in recent years as the local economy adapts.

“I think this new age of collaboration is where it’s at … and to see the federal government set the parameters of what they want to see and then tell us to go collaborate and figure it out, that gets me excited,” he said.

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