OKC a finalist for EDA Challenge program; will receive $500,000 planning grant

Published: Thursday, December 23, 2021 By: Staff Reports

Oklahoma City is one of 60 finalists for the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s $1 billion “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” and will receive a $500,000 EDA planning grant to grow Oklahoma’s biotech innovation cluster with the aim of making the region’s biotech sector more globally competitive.

The “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” grant is the marquee program under the EDA’s entire American Rescue Plan. The aim of the Challenge is to boost economic recovery and rebuild American communities. The EDA was allocated $3 billion in supplemental funding under the American Rescue Plan to assist communities nationwide in their efforts to rebuild their local economies resulting from the impact of the pandemic.

In an EDA news release, the agency said grantees will compete to receive up to $100 million for their proposals to “develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country, all while embracing economic equity, creating good-paying jobs and enhancing U.S. competitiveness globally.” Each of the 60 finalists will receive $500,000 to further develop their proposed projects and will compete for a much larger grant in Phase 2 of the Challenge.

The Oklahoma City Economic Development Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) supporting foundation of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, is the lead applicant for the Challenge grant. The application also brings together a coalition for implementation of the grant, including the Oklahoma City Innovation District; the University of Oklahoma and OU Health Sciences Center; Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology; and Prairie One Solutions, a not-for-profit subsidiary of the Oklahoma State University Research Foundation. Other involved partners include Echo Investment Capital.

The vision of the coalition will be to invest in infrastructure, including labs and research facilities, a workforce training center and startup/incubator facilities, all with the sole purpose of addressing and overcoming persistent challenges plaguing the global biotech industry. The program will also make the biotech innovation cluster more favorable to future research and startups originating within the region by creating what it describes as a “frictionless, equitable biotech supercluster” along a 70-mile stretch of I-35 connecting Norman, Oklahoma City and Stillwater.

“We are thrilled that the EDA thought enough of our Challenge grant proposal that they selected the Oklahoma City Economic Development Foundation as a finalist,” said Chamber President & CEO Roy Williams. “For far too long, our biotechnology community has produced many innovative and leading-edge ideas and products only to see the commercialization and job-growth results occur outside Oklahoma. This grant is intended to support an environment where that growth occurs here and supports further expansion of the biosciences cluster.”

The Oklahoma City metro is one of the fastest growing in the nation, and a big reason for that growth, Williams said, is the emerging biosciences sector, which supports more than 51,000 workers in the region and generates annual revenues of more than $6.7 billion.

“Advancing to the next phase of the Challenge competition is certainly encouraging for all our coalition partners as we look forward to making coordinated and comprehensive investments in the region’s biotech ecosystem,” he said.

Oklahoma City, along with the other 59 Challenge finalists, were chosen from a pool of 529 applicants spanning all 50 states and five territories, including finalist Puerto Rico. The EDA will eventually award 20 to 30 coalitions each up to $100 million to implement their proposed projects. The deadline for coalitions to submit Phase 2 applications is March 15, 2022; winners of Phase 2 are expected to be announced sometime next fall.

“The Build Back Better Regional Challenge aims to supercharge local economies and increase American competitiveness around the globe,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “The outpouring of interest in this program shows the demand for the Build Back Better agenda and the desire to not only create good-paying jobs, but also strengthen our country’s economic resiliency for years down the road.”


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