The Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and commercial partners, including Project Wing (Google), testing NASA's traffic management system for unmanned aircraft

A Virginia Tech-led coalition seeking to bolster the region’s work in the autonomous and electric vehicle sectors has not received a hoped-for influx of up to $100 million in federal funding.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration on Friday announced the 21 winners of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which was touted as a mechanism to help rebuild regional economies and create jobs in sectors including clean energy, advanced manufacturing and biotechnology. The winners, who represented 19 states, each will receive between $25 million and $65 million.

The Southwest Virginia group was named in December as one of 60 finalists for the awards, out of a pool of 529 applicants. Its proposal focused on how to make moving goods from place to place greener and more efficient, building on the region’s existing transportation cluster. It centered on three projects: a test bed for autonomous commercial vehicles, a test zone for delivery drones, and a training and entrepreneurial support network for the sector.

“As much as we’d all have enjoyed winning, looking at all the opportunities that are flowing from this effort and the relationships we’ve built, this was a year well spent,” John Provo, director of the Center for Economic and Community Engagement at Virginia Tech, said in a message to the coalition’s 150 public and private partners.

Along with the other finalists, the coalition will be part of the Economic Development Administration’s long-term community of practice, which will include a “marketplace” for member regional coalitions to access a range of funding sources and will help members on process and policy improvements, he said.

The work that the group has done to position itself in the Build Back Better competition also provides a possible approach for the region to compete for one of the so-called technology hubs that will be created through the newly passed CHIPS-Plus Act, Provo said. 

The bill, which is best known as an attempt to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S. but also includes other technology provisions, calls for the federal government to invest $10 billion in at least 20 of these hubs, no fewer than a third of which should “significantly benefit a small or rural community.”

The U.S. EDA might open a solicitation for the program next year, Provo said.

One Virginia project did receive Build Back Better funding: The Virginia Biotechnology Research Partner Authority was awarded $52.9 million to expand the domestic supply chain for essential medicines and critical active pharmaceutical ingredients. The grant will build on a pharmaceutical manufacturing cluster that is growing between Richmond and Petersburg.

Megan Schnabel

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.