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Two Southern New England Blue Tech Efforts Among Finalists in Build Back Better Regional Challenge

  • Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, University of Rhode Island Research Foundation leading coalitions that were named finalists in the Build Back Better Regional Challenge
  • Challenge invests in projects designed to develop and strengthen industry clusters
  • Southern New England finalists submit proposals looking to strengthen the region’s blue tech economy, including offshore wind development

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Two southern New England coalitions are among the 60 finalists recently named in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalitions have proposed efforts to strengthen the region’s blue tech economy, train workers for jobs in emerging industries such as offshore wind, and promote collaborative efforts across Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

The Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (seCTer) will lead one effort dedicated to strengthening offshore wind operations in Connecticut, particularly the cities of New London and Bridgeport. The University of Rhode Island Research Foundation will work to diversify and expand its current blue economy.

Both organizations are eligible to apply for Phase 2 of the challenge, which will award between 20 and 30 coalitions with up to $100 million to implement three to eight projects supporting an industry sector. Phase 1 finalists also receive $500,000 grants, which can help further the development of their proposed projects and secure additional financing.

seCTer proposal

seCTer is leading a coalition dubbed the Offshore Wind Industry Cluster. The coalition is focusing its attention on economic development around New London, where Orsted and Eversource are redeveloping State Pier into a staging hub to support offshore wind operations, and Bridgeport, where the Avangrid company Park City Wind has leased waterfront land for the storage and assembly of wind turbine parts.

The coalition’s proposal proposes six projects, including:

  • Building, diversifying, and expanding the offshore wind supply chain in Connecticut
  • Reviving waterfront industrial sites on the Thames River to support wind supply chain manufacturers in the region
  • Creating a green business park in Norwich to support new or expanded supply chain companies
  • Leveraging a replicable workforce development model with education and training efforts
  • Establishing a Blue Tech Research & Development Center at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, with the goal of accelerating, developing, and commercializing technology for offshore wind and undersea vehicle technologies
  • A business incubator within this center to support new blue tech businesses that graduate from the applied research center

seCTer says the efforts will support the White House’s goal of increasing offshore wind capacity to 30 gigawatts by 2030. It notes how the Bridgeport and New London regions are also heavily dependent on jobs in the hospitality sector, which suffered heavy losses in the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the proposals have the potential to help residents to find new, higher paying manufacturing jobs.

“What a great path forward for Connecticut and the southeastern region to generate economic development on a regional basis,” said Paul Whitescarver, executive director of seCTer. “This will allow a diversification of our blue economy and its industry partners, and build equitable solutions to job growth.”

Governor Ned Lamont congratulated seCTer for its Phase 1 award.

“The emerging offshore wind industry has the potential to create many good-paying jobs in Connecticut and drive economic growth in towns along our shoreline,” said Lamont. “Our administration is working hard to make Connecticut the center hub of the offshore wind industry in New England. I congratulate seCTer, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and all of our partners for working to secure this competitive grant.”

URI Research Foundation

The URI Research Foundation will lead the Rhode Island Blue Economy Tech Cluster Coalition. Its proposal aims to diversify the state’s blue economy away from its current concentration on tourism, focusing on growth in blue tech and ocean renewables. The coalition proposes to achieve this goal by growing its advanced blue economy, attracting new companies and retaining existing ones, increasing the number of workers in the blue economy, and improving the productivity of the current blue economy workforce.

Specific efforts in the proposal include:

  • The development of Smart Bay, a research and development, prototyping, and testing platform for blue tech in the Narragansett Bay
  • A Blue Tech Innovation Center, housing “blue tech accelerators, venture capital, startup ventures, research faculty, ocean and coastal resilience experts, and innovative non-profits”
  • New and strengthened programs through the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training
  • Supporting the offshore wind industry through the Quonset Multi-Modal OSW Transport and Training Center as well as a new offshore wind deep water port in East Providence
  • Supporting aquaculture via a smart shellfish hatchery and investments in seafood wastewater processing infrastructure

“This is an exciting time for URI,” said University of Rhode Island President Marc Parlange. “We have the resources to support technology and growth while building a robust pipeline of jobs. We have spent years building a network of partners, serving as a bridge between industry and government through vital and impactful translational research. This grant will not only accelerate the work we are currently doing but it will position URI as a powerful engine, fueling the blue economy in the state and the region.”

Challenge details

The Build Back Better Challenge, which was established under the American Rescue Plan, is a $1 billion effort overseen by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, which is part of the U.S. Commerce Department. The challenge seeks to make investments that will develop and strengthen industry clusters across the nation, create good-paying job, make the United States more competitive globally, and promote economic equity.

The Phase 1 finalists were chosen from a pool of 529 applicants. The finalists have until March 15 to apply for Phase 2 of the challenge.

“The Build Back Better Regional Challenge aims to supercharge local economies and increase American competitiveness around the globe,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “The outpouring of interest in this program shows the demand for the Build Back Better agenda and the desire to not only create good-paying jobs, but also strengthen our country’s economic resiliency for years down the road.”

“We are thrilled to help communities work together—in coalitions of government, nonprofits, academia, the private sector, and others—to craft ambitious and regionally unique plans to rebuild their communities,”said Alejandra Y. Castillo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “These projects will help revitalize local economies and tackle our biggest challenges related to climate change, manufacturing, supply chains and more. EDA is proud to ignite these plans and help communities nationwide build back better.”

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