Pittsburgh Region Wins Share of $1 Billion Through the Build Back Better Challenge

Southwestern Pennsylvania will receive almost $63 million to help businesses invest in robotics and other innovative technologies.
Downtown

PHOTO BY RICHARD COOK

Southwestern Pennsylvania has won $62.7 million from a competitive federal grant program — and it’s going to help businesses invest in robotics and other tech startups around the Pittsburgh region.

The funding, part of $1 billion allocated by President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better Challenge” through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, will fund five regional projects, all of which are designed to propel the region forward within the burgeoning robotics and autonomy industries. 

“These projects are designed to open doors to anyone who wants to participate in the region’s thriving robotics cluster. This includes expanded opportunities for women and people of color, as well as provide geographic equity throughout the region,” said Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which helped spearhead the bid, in a statement.

“The grant also puts a plan in motion for the adoption of robotics and AI technologies across a vast portfolio of existing businesses — of every size and in all corners of the region — and seeks to leverage our base of manufacturers to build robust local supply chains,” Pashman added.

The Build Back Better Challenge is the marquee of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s American Rescue Plan, which aims to boost economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild communities — including those dealing with decades of disinvestment. A total of 21 regional coalitions were awarded funding from the $1 billion pot.

“As we invest and grow critical industries in the U.S., we want to create industry hubs in diverse communities across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a statement. “These grants will provide critical and historic funding directly to community coalitions to invest in new infrastructure, research and development and workforce development programs while creating good-paying jobs, supporting workers and prioritizing equity.”

Local stakeholders have called the grant a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to build up the Pittsburgh region’s robotics and automated technology sector — something that has been growing with the inception of science and technology hubs like Hazelwood Green. The city is also home to the self-driving car startup Argo AI, among other companies.

The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, too, have emerged as leading entities in the tech sector, with cutting-edge research facilities scattered across the city.

The five projects, all led by local organizations, include: 

  • Small & Medium Enterprises Robotics Adoption, led by Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that provides consulting and training services to small manufacturers in the region. A $4.8 million grant will focus on boosting regional competitiveness by merging Pennsylvania’s robots and automation sectors with other industries like agriculture, construction, energy, health care and more.
  • Robotics Manufacturing Hub, led by The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, which makes training for robotics careers in advanced manufacturing more accessible and demystifies potential career pathways. A $14.2 million grant will help make the adoption of advanced robotics and automation technology by SMEs less risky, and also accelerate the commercialization of robotics technologies.
  • Expanded Pathways to New Economy Careers, led by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, which is focused on the growth of the region. A $24.8 million grant will establish a highly coordinated, regional upskilling system serving both robotics technology developers and robotics technology adopters in the long run, opening a range of training options outside of traditional four-year and advanced degrees and ensuring that programs evolve based on industry needs.
  • Robotics Startup Factory, led by Innovation Works. Innovation Works is focused on growing and connecting the local startup ecosystem. A $12 million grant will aim to create a globally prominent Applied Robotics Startup Factory that accelerates the formation of startups focusing on robotics and automation in multiple industry sectors, including (but not limited to) agriculture, construction, mining, energy, warehousing and manufacturing.
  • Expanded Pathways to Entrepreneurship, led by InnovatePGH, a nonprofit that seeks to elevate Pittsburgh’s status as a global innovation hub. A $6.9 million grant will increase pathways into the robotics and autonomy industries for underrepresented populations and launch new Minority & Women-Owned Business Enterprise companies that can support the innovation economy.
Categories: The 412