Build Back Better Regional Challenge

Magnet-Led Partners Land $500K in Build Back Better Challenge Funds

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An effort led by Magnet involving local partners, including Brite Energy Innovators and Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, was selected as one of 60 national finalists in the Build Back Better Regional challenge.

The U.S. Economic Development Agency selected the Magnet-led effort as one of 60 national finalists, and the only in Ohio, for the grant, while a Mahoning Valley initiative spearheaded by Eastgate Regional Council of governments fell short.

The group led by Magnet  — or Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network — will receive $500,000 for planning on targeted projects led by Brite, Cleveland Water Alliance, Cuyahoga County, Jumpstart, MAGNET, Ohio Aerospace Institute, University of Akron College of Engineering and Polymer Science, University Hospitals and in coordination with diversity, equity and inclusion leads from Akron Urban League, Northeast Ohio Hispanic Center for Economic Development, and the Urban League of Greater Cleveland.

“We’re interested in seeing if Northeast Ohio can help the country with the domestic supply chain for battery manufacturing,” Sara Daugherty, director of partnerships at Brite, said.

Brite representatives have been part of conversations over the years with Magnet and Team NEO, another collaborator in the initiative, around topics including battery manufacturing and the difficulties involved in bringing new technologies to market because the process is time and labor intensive, she said.

From discussions with people in other U.S. battery manufacturing hubs, Brite also has determined there is a lag in testing or inability to test new technologies, and to have them go through initial assembly lines, she said.

Funded by the American Rescue Plan, the program aims “to boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild American communities including some that have been grappling with decades of disinvestment,” according to an EDA news release. EDA received 529 applications from regions in all 50 states and five territories. 

The 60 finalists have proposed projects that will develop or scale industry sectors, develop and train the workforce of today, and build resilient economies, according to EDA. Each will receive approximately $500,000 for planning and advance to Phase 2 in the grant competition, which will award 20 to 30 regional coalitions up to $100 million for implementation.

“When we look at the assets already present in Northeast Ohio – R&D, infrastructure, natural assets, talent pools, entrepreneurship and capitalization – we simply need to put it all together to propel massive growth and we believe this grant can help us do just that,” Ethan Karp, president and CEO of Magnet, said in a Magnet news release.

“This planning grant will help us prepare for the second phase of BBBRC which could mean up to $75 million in support for these projects which will boost our regional economy.”

The coalition aims to grow an equitable smart manufacturing and advanced materials cluster in northeast Ohio, according to EDA. The proposed projects “aim to bring innovation to the region, especially around smart and advanced technologies, while encouraging innovation and workforce development.”

The cluster encompasses an estimated 700 firms, 45,000 workers, and $12 billion Gross Regional Product.

Magnet crafted its proposal in collaboration with dozens of organizations across Northeast Ohio, including Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Stark Economic Development Board and Team NEO.

“We look forward to the next phase of partnering with our colleagues across Northeast Ohio to become the epicenter for the future of U.S. manufacturing. The Mahoning Valley, with its infrastructure, talent and organizations spearheading emerging technologies, stands to experience significant economic growth,” Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said.

The coalition led by Eastgate, which included Youngstown State University, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Youngstown Business incubator, America Makes, Western Reserve Port Authority and Brite, proposed initiatives involving a national energy storage workforce training and innovation center; digital equity and job skills centers;  increased business attraction, retention and marketing resources; expanded innovation and entrepreneurial services; and physical infrastructure required to compete for new business, including a “Lake to River” high-speed broadband fiber line. 

James Kinnick, Eastgate executive director, said EDA informed him via email Monday that the coalition’s proposal did not advance. The email cited the “very competitive” grant process, in which just over 11% of applicants advanced to the next round. Since submitting the application, the partners continued to meet to look for other potential funding options.

“We will look to debrief with EDA in the near future just to go over what we were looking for and opportunities to attract additional funds in the future in smaller amounts,” he said. “We’ll look to take some of the initiatives that we wanted to move forward and break then down into fundable opportunities.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.