The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs program aims to boost the domestic economy and national security by focusing on places that can be globally competitive within a decade in critical technologies. Photo by Matt Busse.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs program aims to boost the domestic economy and national security by focusing on places that can be globally competitive within a decade in critical technologies. Photo by Matt Busse.

A New River Valley-based consortium, in partnership with Danville-area organizations, has been awarded a federal grant to develop a strategy to grow the region’s advanced manufacturing and materials industries.

Meanwhile, a group focused on pharmaceutical manufacturing in the Richmond and Petersburg areas has been designated as a “tech hub” by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, putting it in the running to possibly be awarded tens of millions of dollars in federal funding next year.

The two consortia were the Virginia winners among 31 tech hubs and 29 strategy development grant recipients nationwide announced Monday under the EDA’s Tech Hubs program, which aims to help regions increase their global competitiveness in critical technology areas with a focus on diversifying federal investment around the country. Several other applicants from Virginia did not make the cut.

“It is exciting to be recognized on a national level for what we have in terms of assets and talents in this area,” said Kevin Byrd, executive director of the New River Valley Regional Commission, which is the lead organization in the New River Valley/Danville partnership.

Byrd said the partnership requested $450,000 from the EDA for the strategy development grant, which together with $453,458 in matching money from the partnership’s members would make a total two-year budget of $903,458.

The group also has applied for a $98,859 GO Virginia economic development grant related to this effort, and that application is headed to GO Virginia’s state board for consideration, Byrd said.

The federal — and possibly state — money will allow the consortium to hire a full-time “regional innovation officer” to manage strategy development and further cement the relationships among the partnership’s more than 15 members, moving toward a goal of helping small- and medium-sized manufacturers adopt advanced technologies and grow their businesses.

The New River Valley/Danville group’s work focuses on additive manufacturing, which is essentially industrial-scale 3D printing that builds products layer upon layer, and developing advanced materials such as metal alloys, polymers and ceramics.

Examples of applications of such technologies include making electric vehicles lighter to conserve energy usage or rapidly manufacturing machine parts to circumvent supply-chain delays.

Consortium members include Virginia Tech, which operates an additive manufacturing research lab; Radford University; New River Community College; Christiansburg-based MELD Manufacturing, a maker of large 3D printers, and its spinoff, MELD PrintWorks; Hollingsworth & Vose, which has a Floyd County facility and which makes advanced materials used in filters, batteries and other applications; Fastech, a Danville-based 3D metal printing and engineering firm; and the Danville-based Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. 

Floyd, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski counties and the cities of Danville and Radford are also members.

The grant application included a letter of support from Virginia’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Republican U.S. Reps. Morgan Griffith and Rob Wittman, according to the New River Valley Regional Commission.

In a joint news release, Warner said the selection of the New River Valley/Danville group to receive a strategy development grant “is great news for the New River Valley, Southside, and for the Commonwealth as a whole,” while Kaine said he is “particularly impressed with how these innovations will enhance our national security.”

“I am proud to have supported this application and look forward to continuing the growth of the regions’ innovation economy,” Warner said.

The Richmond-based consortium focused on pharmaceutical manufacturing is led by the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a public-private partnership founded in 2011 in Prince George County. 

The consortium “seeks to accelerate the growth, innovation, and sustainability of the U.S.-based [advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing] industry to re-shore safe and affordable medicines via innovative hybrid and continuous flow manufacturing technologies,” according to the EDA.

“Increasing overseas pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing has resulted in supply chain vulnerabilities and difficulties in pharmaceutical quality regulation and monitoring,” the EDA said. “The APM Tech Hub builds off decade-long strategy development, existing regional assets, scientific capacities, and significant public and private investment to ensure critical pharmaceuticals are manufactured here in America.”

Across the Tech Hubs program, nearly 400 applications were submitted seeking strategy development grants, tech hub designations, or both. Each applicant was required to be a consortium representing a collaboration among local governments, private industry and academia. Areas of focus included advanced manufacturing, autonomous systems and quantum computing; a full list of winners is available on the EDA’s website.

The 31 designated tech hubs can now apply to the program’s second phase, in which five to 10 of those hubs will be awarded approximately $40 million to $70 million each to implement their economic development strategies, according to the EDA. The application deadline is Feb. 29.

Of the 31 tech hubs, 11 also received strategy development grants, according to the EDA’s list of award recipients; the Richmond-based pharmaceutical group was not among them. Another 18 consortia were awarded grants but not tech hub designations — the New River Valley/Danville group fell into this category, although it had applied for both a grant and a tech hub designation.

An EDA spokesperson said strategy development grant requests generally were for $400,000 to $500,000.

Groups that only received strategy development grants are not eligible for the program’s second phase but can use the grant money to “further mature their plans” and could eventually become tech hub designees eligible for possible future rounds of Tech Hubs program funding, according to the EDA.

In its 2024 budget request to Congress, the Biden administration sought another $4 billion in Tech Hub funding over the next several years, but Congress has yet to approve a full-year budget. Last year’s CHIPS and Science Act authorized the program at $10 billion; the EDA has so far received $500 million.

In a statement, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said the pharmaceutical manufacturing tech hub designation “supports our plan to bolster this critical technology ecosystem and will build on the success of the Petersburg community to become a global leader in the pharmaceutical field.”

“Becoming an internationally competitive high-tech hub for pharmaceuticals will provide lasting and resilient economic development to the residents of Petersburg and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Youngkin said.

Virginia Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Jason El Koubi said in a statement to Cardinal News that the tech hub designation for pharmaceuticals is “incredible reinforcement of the Richmond-Petersburg region’s potential to be a global innovation center for pharmaceutical manufacturing.”

El Koubi congratulated the New River Valley/Danville group for the collaborative effort that earned it the strategy development grant.

“These recognitions confirm that Virginia has the capacity to supercharge this industry in the U.S. and be a player on the global stage with the help of the Tech Hubs program,” El Koubi said.

Virginia-based applications that did not make the cut Monday include two proposals aimed at growing the nuclear industry in Lynchburg and Southwest Virginia, a Hampton-Roads based consortium focused on autonomous systems and a Richmond-based group centered on artificial intelligence.

A Bluefield, West Virginia-based partnership that includes part of Southwest Virginia and seeks to further develop an industry around carbon-composite materials manufacturing also did not make the EDA’s list.

Matt Busse is the business reporter for Cardinal News. Matt spent nearly 19 years at The News & Advance,...