UNC Charlotte has been awarded a Strategy Development Grant of $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration.
The federal funding is part of the inaugural Tech Hubs program. The University is partnering with the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance; Centralina Regional Council; and more than 25 industry, academic institutions and workforce development organizations in North and South Carolina on the grant, which will launch the Carolinas Innovation Center for Optics and Metrology (CICOM) Consortium.
The announcement, made Oct. 23 by the White House, further bolsters UNC Charlotte’s position as a catalyst for technology commercialization and industry growth. The grant was the only one in the Charlotte region.
The EDA funding is part of the inaugural Tech Hubs program, an economic development initiative designed to drive regional innovation and job creation by strengthening a region’s capacity to manufacture, commercialize and deploy technology that will advance American competitiveness, according to the EDA.
“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,” said Interim Vice Chancellor for Research John Daniels. “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.”
The planning grant aims to significantly increase local coordination and planning activities, which could make recipients more competitive for future designation as a Tech Hub. UNC Charlotte’s success of commercialization within optics and metrology is particularly promising.
Greg Needham, executive director of the Office of Research Partnerships, who led the proposal process along with Devin Collins, director of technology and business support programs in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, emphasized the critical role of UNC Charlotte's core technologies.
"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," said Needham.
In 2022, 7,700 jobs and $4.9 billion in capital investments were announced in the Charlotte region, according to the CLT Alliance. Additionally, the diverse and dynamic bi-state, 16-county area that makes up the CICOM region is home to more than 3,500 manufacturers, more than a dozen optics firms and 190 advanced materials firms, all contributing more than $26 billion to the regional economy.
“The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance was proud to partner with UNC Charlotte and Centralina in securing this important investment for our region,” said Rob Horton, chief marketing and communications officer at the CLT Alliance. “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.”
Emerging technology developments within the CICOM consortium will be a catalyst for local job creation, regional inclusive economic growth, and global awareness of the innovation capacity of the Greater Charlotte region.
“Centralina is excited to collaborate with UNC Charlotte and 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. We appreciate the U.S. EDA recognizing the potential of our tech hub and investing in a critical implementation action item in our region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy,” said Geraldine Gardner, executive director of Centralina Regional Council.
About the Tech Hubs Program
The Tech Hubs Program will invest directly in regions with the assets, resources, capacity and potential to transform into globally competitive innovation centers in approximately 10 years, while catalyzing the creation of good jobs for American workers at all skill levels, equitably and inclusively.
The Tech Hubs Program was enacted as part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 (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 appropriated EDA $500 million to launch the program. This program invests in U.S. regions that are focused on technologies within or across the key technology focus areas outlined in the statute.