U.S. Department of Commerce Awards Charlotte A Strategy Development Grant

UNC Charlotte’s excellence in the realm of technology has been recognized with a significant grant. The university has been awarded a Strategy Development Grant amounting to a generous $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. This federal funding is a pivotal component of the groundbreaking Tech Hubs program, which aims to drive regional innovation and job creation by enhancing a region’s capacity to develop, commercialize, and deploy cutting-edge technology to boost American competitiveness.

UNC Charlotte’s collaboration extends beyond the confines of academia. They are partnering with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, the Centralina Regional Council, and over 25 industry, academic institutions, and workforce development organizations across North and South Carolina to bring forth the Carolinas Innovation Center for Optics and Metrology (CICOM) Consortium.

The recent announcement, made on October 23 by the White House, has further solidified UNC Charlotte’s role as a catalyst for technology commercialization and industrial growth, with this grant being the sole recipient in the Charlotte region.

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research, John Daniels, aptly highlighted the significance of this partnership, stating, “The greater Charlotte region has long been a hub of global manufacturing, and UNC Charlotte is a recognized national research leader through the Center for Optoelectronics and Optical Communications and the Center for Precision Metrology. Creating high synergy between the two core technologies coupled with the region’s robust manufacturing and materials ecosystem will strengthen our country’s innovation capacity and accelerate our ability to produce the next generation of advanced products and talent here in Charlotte.”

This planning grant is expected to significantly enhance local coordination and planning activities, setting the stage for future designation as a Tech Hub, a status that UNC Charlotte is well-poised to attain, given its track record of successful commercialization within optics and metrology.

Greg Needham, executive director of the Office of Research Partnerships, emphasized UNC Charlotte’s unique position, saying, “With UNC Charlotte’s nationally distinguished optics and metrology research centers, we are uniquely positioned to be able to move quickly from the laboratory to commercialization of innovative technology solutions, which is needed to increase domestic manufacturing, especially optics manufacturing — a national priority to drive economic growth and national security.”

In 2022, the Charlotte region saw the announcement of 7,700 jobs and $4.9 billion in capital investments. Moreover, the CICOM region, consisting of a diverse 16-county area spanning two states, is home to more than 3,500 manufacturers, over a dozen optics firms, and 190 advanced materials firms, contributing significantly to the regional economy.

The significance of this investment hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rob Horton, chief marketing and communications officer at the CLT Alliance, expressed gratitude for the recognition of precision metrology and optics in advanced manufacturing, stating, “We are grateful that the EDA has recognized the impact precision metrology and optics can have in advanced manufacturing, driving long-term competitive advantage and creating opportunities for all in our region.”

The fruits of this collaboration will not be confined to the local level. The emerging technology developments within the CICOM consortium are poised to become a catalyst for local job creation, inclusive regional economic growth, and global recognition of the Greater Charlotte region’s innovation capacity.

Centralina Regional Council’s executive director, Geraldine Gardner, expressed her enthusiasm for this collaboration, saying, “Centralina is excited to collaborate with UNC Charlotte and the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance to accelerate innovation in our advanced manufacturing sector and strengthen the relationships between the public and private sector leaders, researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.”

About the Tech Hubs Program:

The Tech Hubs Program is a visionary initiative that directly invests in regions with the assets, resources, capacity, and potential to evolve into globally competitive innovation centers over the course of approximately a decade. Its overarching goal is to create high-quality jobs for American workers across all skill levels, in a manner that is equitable and inclusive.

This program came into existence as part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, initially known as the Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs program. The statute authorized $10 billion for the program over five years. As part of the FY 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress allocated a substantial $500 million to the EDA to launch the program. The program focuses on investing in U.S. regions with a strong emphasis on key technology areas outlined in the statute, fueling innovation and fostering economic growth.

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