Recently, we announced that we will receive a $14.2 million grant through the federal Build Back Better (BBB) Regional Challenge awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Jay Douglass, ARM Institute Chief Operating Officer, led the ARM Institute’s involvement in this effort. In this Five Questions piece, he outlines the projects and organizations involved in the grant, how the grant will work, and our regional partners involved in the effort to win the Build Back Better regional challenge.
1. What is the Build Back Better (BBB) Regional Challenge and what is involved in the Pittsburgh Region’s Grant?
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge is the central piece of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA)’s American Rescue Plan that aims to boost economic recovery from the pandemic and rebuild American communities, including those grappling with decades of disinvestment.
In total, the Pittsburgh region received a $62.7 million grant with the ARM Institute acting as a project lead and receiving $14.2 million for our piece of the project. There are five distinct projects funded through the grant that each work towards the goal of building a robotics and autonomy cluster to empower workers and organizations in an 11-county region encompassing Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland.
According to the Allegheny Conference, an analysis conducted during the application process estimates the overall economic impact of this growing sector includes more than 14,500 workers, over 750 companies, and approximately $575 million in regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The five project pieces are briefly outlined below:
- Robotics Manufacturing Hub, led by The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute
$14.2 million grant to de-risk the adoption of advanced robotics and automation technology by SMEs and accelerate the commercialization of robotics technologies in these entities. More on our piece later in this interview.
- Small & Medium Enterprises (SME) Robotics Adoption, led by Catalyst Connection (an ARM Institute Member)
$4.8 million grant to focus on boosting regional competitiveness by bringing Pennsylvania’s innovations in robotics and automation to SMEs in other industries like agriculture, construction, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, mining, and transportation.
- Expanded Pathways to New Economy Careers, led by Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission
$24.8 million grant to 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
$12 million grant 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
$6.9 million grant to increase pathways into the robotics and autonomy industries for underrepresented populations and launching new Minority- and Women- Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) companies that can support the innovation economy.
2. How was the Southwestern Pennsylvania’s proposal selected and what was the process like for putting the proposal together?
The overall process started around a year ago. The Pittsburgh region formed a coalition called the Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative chaired by Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and Dr. Farnam Jahanian, President of Carnegie Mellon University. The ARM Institute is a project lead in the Collaborative and provided critically needed expertise in managing federal investments, supporting small and medium sized manufacturers, and catalyzing robotics solutions. The Collaborative met frequently over the year to define our projects, convene regional partners, and write the project narrative. As the lead for the ARM Institute, I represented the ARM Institute in these meetings.
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge was extremely competitive. The administration received 529 submissions. 60 finalists were selected to move to Phase Two. Of the 60, only 21 were selected for funding. We are honored to join this elite group!
We would also like to congratulate ARM Institute Member Wichita State University for being awarded $51 million through the Kansas regional Build Back Better team!
3. What is the focus of the portion of the grant that is allocated to the ARM Institute?
The primary focus of our grant will be to build, operate, and manage a Robotics Manufacturing Hub at Mill 19 where we will provide de-risking services for small and medium sized manufacturers in the 11-county region. Perceived risk is a key inhibitor to SMMs adopting robotics, both in terms of potential disruption to their operations and potential money wasted in investing in solutions that ultimately do not serve their needs. Large manufacturers can more easily navigate these risks and forecast beyond the risk to the benefits after technology adoption.
The Manufacturing Hub will be a collaborative de-risking space where SMMs and technology providers work together to find ways to make manufacturers more competitive. Through the Hub, we will guide manufacturers through the de-risking process to identify operations that will benefit the most from robotics and autonomy and provide the highest return on investment. By providing technical expertise and access to robotics technologies that SMMs otherwise could not afford, the Manufacturing Hub lowers the barriers to adopting critically needed automation.
We will also coordinate four makerspaces (now called Innovation Accelerators) in more rural areas to help manufacturers in those counties begin their journey towards automation.
4. What other regional organizations will the ARM Institute work with to implement the projects in this grant?
The Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative is comprised of more than 90 public and private organizations. Principally, we will work with Catalyst Connection (an ARM Institute Member and Pennsylvania MEP also located at Mill 19), Carnegie Mellon University (an ARM Institute Member), Innovation Works (a seed stage investor in the Pittsburgh region), and the Allegheny Conference (an economic development organization in the region and the lead for the region’s Build Back Better grant).
5. This is a great opportunity for ARM and the Greater Pittsburgh region. Will we learn more about it at the upcoming Member Meeting?
Yes, the Annual ARM Institute Member Meeting will be a great way for Members to learn more about this effort and how they can get involved! We will have a session dedicated to our Build Back Better award that will then lead into a reception at our Mill 19 facility, where a majority of our Build Back Better work will occur. We highly encourage in-person attendance at this year’s event so that members can participate in our Mill 19 reception, which will also feature technology demonstrations. Our Member Meeting will take place November 15-17 as a hybrid event in Pittsburgh, PA.
For those who don’t know, the Annual ARM Institute Member Meeting is our cornerstone event and convenes representatives from across our 350+ member organizations for 2.5 days of collaboration, networking, and knowledge-sharing. This year’s meeting marks our fifth Annual Member Meeting! We will have special activities to mark this important milestone.
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About the ARM Institute
The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute is a Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense under Agreement Number W911NF-17-3-0004 and is part of the Manufacturing USA® network. The ARM Institute leverages a unique, robust, and diverse ecosystem of 300+ consortium members and partners across industry, academia, and government to make robotics, autonomy, and artificial intelligence more accessible to U.S. manufacturers large and small, train and empower the manufacturing workforce, strengthen our economy and global competitiveness, and elevate national security and resilience. Based in Pittsburgh, PA since 2017, the ARM Institute is leading the way to a future where people & robots work together to respond to our nation’s greatest challenges and to produce the world’s most desired products. For more information, visit www.arminstitute.org and follow the ARM Institute on LinkedIn and Twitter.