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Blog Category: Economic Development Administration

Spotlight on Commerce: Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development

Spotlight on Commerce: Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to building a middle class economy in honor of Black History Month

Guest blog post by Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development 

Outside of my parents, the most influential person in my life was the late Bishop Norman L. Wagner.  Bishop Wagner served as the pastor of the church I attended virtually my entire life.  Some of his most powerful lessons focused on service to others and living a life of purpose.  One of Bishop Wagner’s quotes that continues to resonate with me today is that “significance is paramount to success.” Those words have guided me in my career and life. I strive to do things that have significance and affect real change. 

After graduating from Youngstown State University in my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, with a business finance degree, I worked in the banking industry for several years, until leaving to pursue a career in public service – leaving to pursue significance.  In 2005, I was elected as the youngest and first African-American mayor in the City’s history.  I am proud to have been given the opportunity to help change the dynamics and the conversation about Youngstown.  Not just because it’s my hometown, but also because the issues facing Youngstown were not unique. My work at EDA allows me to focus on critical issues that affect distressed communities like Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Fresno, California; and rural areas such as Conover, North Carolina. 

As Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, I have the privilege of leading the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which is the only federal agency with a mission focused solely on creating economic opportunities in distressed communities throughout the United States. Distress is something I understand on a very personal level. 

It strikes me as somewhat poetic that I was born and spent most of my life in a community that was, for many years, defined by economic distress. Youngstown was often at the center of the U.S.’s “post-industrialization” debate for nearly three decades due to its historic economic dependence on the declining steel industry. While the city still faces many challenges, in recent years, it has become defined less by its problems and regarded more for its recovery efforts. 

In my role at EDA, I often travel across the country and am afforded the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds. They may differ in age, race, and wealth, but they share a common thread - a shared sense of purpose and a desire to create better prospects for their communities and themselves.

Understanding and Measuring Innovation Ecosystems at the Global Innovation Summit

Understanding and Measuring Innovation Ecosystems at the Global Innovation Summit

Guest blog post by Tom Guevara, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairsl, U.S. Economic Development Administration 

There’s a lot of talk these days about “innovation ecosystems,” but what is an innovation ecosystem? What does it mean? Think about the ultimate ecosystem: earth. When we refer to the earth’s ecosystem, we are talking about the interconnectivity of animal, plant, and elements that sustain life. Well, an innovation ecosystem is the same idea. It’s everything in the environment, including and especially culture, that work together to foster and sustain innovation. How we create those ecosystems is at the core of the Global Innovation Summit, taking place this week in San Jose, California. 

The Global Innovation Summit is an opportunity for entrepreneurs, innovators and those that support them from 50+ countries to come together to build solutions, apply new tools to accelerate innovation, and learn from one another. There are three central questions the summit seeks to answer: 

  • How do we build entrepreneurial ecosystems anywhere? 
  • How do we catalyze innovation across companies, cities and countries sustainably?
  • How do we accelerate entrepreneurship, technology and impact at scale? 

These are all questions that the U.S. Economic Development Administration grapples with every day. I am thrilled, therefore, to be participating and learning with over 500 innovators at the Summit, and to explore some of these issues in the two sessions I was asked to moderate: Design of Startup Ecosystems and Measuring, Understanding, and Driving Innovation Culture. 

What goes in to creating an innovation ecosystem? How do you create culture? Can you create a culture? Our discussion will examine several case studies in an attempt to answer these questions. I will be talking to Prafull Anubhai from Ahmedabad University in India about how he helped foster a culture of innovation through VentureStudio, and Isabel Alvarez-Rodriguez from the Inter-American Development Bank, who will discuss how they have used innovation to address the development challenges in Latin America. 

I will be joined by Julie Kirk, the Director of EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for my second session on measuring, understanding, and driving innovation culture. The session is jointly sponsored by Commerce, EDA, and T2 Venture Creation and will include Henry Doss and Alistair Brett the Chief Strategy Officer and International Technology Commercialization Advisor, respectively, for T2 Venture Creation. Julie will bring her experiences as an entrepreneur to bear on the conversation, highlighting her successes. The four of us will tackle the complex undertaking of building a strong culture of innovation and probably challenge a few misconceptions about how to go about designing and innovation ecosystem within an organization. 

I look forward to engaging discussions, thought-provoking debates, and collaborative opportunities during the Summit that will help us create a more innovative culture, economy, and world.

The Important Work of NACIE Begins

The Important Work of NACIE Begins

Guest blog post by Julie Goonewardene, Vice Chancellor for Innovation & Strategic Investment, Diaceutics Chairwoman, AMA Board, MBI Board

Last year, I was honored to be appointed as an advisor to Secretary Pritzker as part of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE). NACIE is emblematic of all the entrepreneurs, educators, philanthropists, and innovators in all sectors of the economy who are working to ensure that our country remains a place of opportunity, innovation and entrepreneurship for generations to come. In December 2014 Secretary Pritzker convened the first meeting of the 27-member NACIE. My NACIE colleagues impress me. We are a diverse group, and I was excited to hear from my fellow council members as they brought their experiences to bear as we began discussing the issues. I can’t think of a better group to address the challenges of creating an innovation economy.

As the current NACIE we are charged with bringing our ideas, and networks together to identify and recommend policies, programs, and partnerships that can help American businesses, individuals, and communities become even more competitive in the global marketplace.

Economic development is hard. It demands years of sustained effort that transcends political movements, market cycles, demographic changes, and geopolitical shifts. It also requires people from all sectors of the economic ecosystem to analyze and understand what is working, to offer alternatives where improvement is needed, and to reach consensus around policies and investments that support paths to prosperity for all Americans.

The Secretary and her team, marshaled by the Director of EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Julie Kirk, expect every council member to come to meetings prepared to contribute. Our first workshop began with an exchange of backgrounds and philosophies then broke into three standing committees — Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Workforce Development — where the Council will conduct the majority of its work.

The Benefits of IMCP

A US Navy welder works at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Photo courtesy US Navy

Guest Blog by Sarah Lee, Principal Economic Development Manager, Puget Sound Regional Council

Washington State brought in $7 million in IMCP-aligned federal agency funds just months after receiving one of the “manufacturing community” designations from the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s a pretty shining endorsement of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) program, right? But the truth is Washington State began reaping the benefits of the program even before we submitted our application. The value of this program is about even more than funding.

Our IMCP application was based on the Washington Aerospace Strategy, already developed by the Governor’s Office of Aerospace and the Washington Aerospace Partnership, so we had a head start. The application process pushed us to dig deeper, to prioritize projects and firm up commitments. We reached out to more stakeholders than we had before, which meant we uncovered great programs and projects and discovered partners we didn’t even know we had.

For example, we hadn’t fully explored what our local Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) could do for us. MEP is a National Institute of Standards and Technology program that helps small and medium manufacturers create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. With a median size of 98 employees, our state’s aerospace suppliers definitely qualify for MEP programs. As a result, two of the six catalytic investments outlined in our IMCP plan are projects developed in partnership with our MEP. We have already secured funds for one of those projects, and the MEP relationship continues to open new doors. 

EDA Tools: Supporting Investment in Local Communities

Data Driving Development:  EDA Releases New Cluster Mapping Tool to Help Spur Regional Economic Growth

A community can’t attract investment if it doesn’t have a clear sense of what it has to offer to a potential company or industry looking to locate there. That’s why the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has tools to help communities identify assets in their regions that will help to attract private investment: the National Excess Manufacturing Capacity Catalogue (NEXCAP) and the U.S. Cluster Mapping website.

In the United States, there are hundreds of millions of square feet of nonproductive commercial, industrial, and manufacturing space. This space provides an opportunity for domestic companies to find manufacturing spaces as well as foreign companies looking to locate operations in the United States. However, information about this space can be incomplete and scattered. That’s where NEXCAP comes in. With funding from EDA, NEXCAP is uniquely and comprehensively cataloging these vacant manufacturing facilities, their assets, and those of the surrounding community. The searchable catalog offers companies seeking manufacturing production sites/facilities in the U.S. a complete and detailed overview of potential manufacturing sites. NEXCAP's site inventory and portal is populated with detailed profiles of the facilities and their host communities. It provides companies seeking locations with a toolkit of information to guide their business location and/or expansion decisions. This benefits the communities with properties by attracting investment and new, job creating industries.

Top 5 Reasons to Apply to be an IMCP Designated Community

Today, the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced the next round of competition for designation as a “Manufacturing Community” under the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) initiative. IMCP is designed to revolutionize the way federal agencies leverage economic development funds. It encourages communities to develop comprehensive economic development strategies that will strengthen their competitive edge for attracting global manufacturer and supply chain investments. Through IMCP, the federal government is rewarding best practices – coordinating federal aid to support communities’ strong development plans and synchronizing grant programs across multiple departments and agencies.  

Here are 5 reasons your community should consider applying for the designation: 

  1. A compass for navigating the bureaucracy: If you are designated as a manufacturing community, it can be like getting a machete to cut through red tape! While communities don’t receive money for being designated, you will be given elevated consideration from 10 federal agencies for more than $1.3 billion in available grant and program funding. No, you’re not guaranteed to suddenly be awarded every grant you apply for, but you get the opportunity to apply with that designee seal of approval. Moreover, you will have a dedicated federal liaison from one of the participating agencies that can serve as a resource to help you navigate the federal grant application process.

  2. IMCP will take your manufacturing strategy to the next level: Manufacturing is experiencing a renaissance. Over the past 5 years, American manufacturing has created nearly 800,000 jobs. The low-paid, gritty, back-breaking labor of the industrial revolution looks nothing like today’s manufacturing.  For the first time in more than 10 years, both manufacturing output and employment are growing. Today’s manufacturing workforce are innovative, highly skilled, well paid employees in highly technical industries, with workers earning 17 percent more than similar workers in other sectors. This resurgence is great for the economy as a whole. For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, the sector generates $1.32 for the U.S. economy.

  3. Increased cooperation among your region: At the core of the manufacturing community designation is the idea that your region is forming effective partnerships and working across sectors (public, private, academic) on issues relating to workforce development, supply chain, research and innovation, trade and international investment, and access to capital. Making these connections is invaluable for strengthening your local economy, attracting investment, and creating jobs. We witnessed an incredible buzz and enthusiasm among designated communities, applicants, and other participants at our IMCP Summit held last October. It was a showcase of economic collaboration at its best.

  4. You’re in good company: The 12 communities designated in the first round of competition are doing some incredible innovative work! From automotive to aerospace, flooring to photonics, these diverse economic development plans are being implemented to boost the economies of regions across the country. To learn more about each community’s work and vision and the success of the designation, visit: http://www.eda.gov/challenges/imcp/index.htm

  5. You win by just applying: This may be a competition, but there are no “winners” or “losers” here. Everyone who applies benefits from the coordination and planning that is part of the application process. But don’t take our word for it – we heard from several of our first round applicants who were not designated that they found the process of simply applying to be very helpful. They were able to make new connections and access tools and resources to help start meaningful planning for their manufacturing sectors that has helped positioned them for success.   

These are just a few of the reasons to apply to be a designated manufacturing community. If you’re looking to strengthen your community’s manufacturing sector and regional economy, find your reason and start building your partnerships now. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2015. For more information visit: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-01-29/pdf/2015-01763.pdf

The Importance of Service

Assistant Secretary Jay Williams tours robotics lab with Detroit Public School Students at the Cody Academy of Public Leadership. Detroit was an early adopter of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Guest blog post by Assistant Secretary of Commerce Jay Williams

We all face frustrations and challenges in our daily lives. Most of us are fortunate that our biggest complaint is often a bad day at our office job, the perils of DC traffic, or the fact that our DVR didn’t record the end of the game. It’s become a bit of a joke on social media with the advent of #FirstWorldProblems. Yet, there are many people living in the “First World” whose problems are much bigger than we realize.  

Many young men of color in this country live in poverty. In fact, minority children are 6 to 9 times more likely to be raised in areas of concentrated poverty. For most living below the poverty line, this gap in wealth creates a gap in opportunities that only grows as these children enter adulthood. I was privileged to have been afforded many opportunities growing up in a middle class household, but I know many of the other young black men of Youngstown, my hometown, were not so fortunate. That's why the President's efforts to address this issue are so personal to me. 

Last February, President Obama launched “My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. 

I was honored to be invited to participate as an Ambassador for the MBK initiative and do my part to help achieve the program’s six main goals:

  • Ensuring that all of our children enter school cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally prepared
  • Ensuring that all of our children read at grade level by third grade
  • Ensuring that all of our young people graduate from high school
  • Ensuring that all of our young people complete post-secondary education or training
  • Ensuring that all youth are employed out of school
  • Ensuring that all of our young people are safe from violent crime 

These goals are the backbone of a larger effort in which cities, towns, and Tribal Nations across America will take up the President’s call to improve outcomes for all young people in their communities, to create a society where nobody is left behind and where all children have opportunities to succeed. EDA’s work in distressed communities and Commerce’s commitment to helping promote and support workforce training supports these goals and helps to make them a reality. 

Building Data-Driven Workforce Solutions

Building Data-Driven Workforce Solutions

Guest blog post by Chauncy Lennon, Senior Program Director, Workforce Initiatives JP Morgan Chase Foundation and Member of the Commerce Department's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) 

Last Friday was the kickoff meeting for NACIE 2.0 – the Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Committee on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I was proud to join my fellow committee members to address global competiveness. Without question, the meeting started in what can only be described as a sprint out of the blocks. We began the morning with Secretary Pritzker asking us what transformational investments and policies the Federal Government facilitate to help communities, businesses, and workers be globally competitive. By the end of the day we were presenting a list of ideas with the potential to answer this charge. Additional comments from Julie Kirk, Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Tom Kalil, Deputy Director of Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, helped frame the opportunities ahead. 

A new and welcomed feature of NACIE 2.0 is three subcommittees focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship, and workforce development. I’m looking forward to serving on the workforce subcommittee. At JPMorgan Chase, we’ve just completed the first year of New Skills at Work, a five-year, $250 million global initiative supporting the development of data-driven workforce training and education solutions to help address the mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of current job seekers. As the subcommittee got to work on honing its list of priorities, labor market information and data quickly rose to the top. Advancing the US workforce, helping industries compete, and fostering innovation all require better data and systems to process and share it with employers, educators and workforce trainers.

The limitations government, business and educators face in understanding education pipelines, career pathways, and the different types of credentials workers currently create significant economic growth challenges. Without data, employers don’t know if the workforce in their region can meet their skill needs.  The same goes for job seekers. If education attainment is not linked to the needs of businesses, high schools, colleges and training providers struggle to know exactly what credentials and degrees students might need to find jobs in different sectors and industries. 

As a result, both employers and job seekers suffer because of insufficient data. Job seekers have a hard time knowing about current and future employment opportunities while employers lack access to the quality data informing them about the results of training and education programs.

Building stronger data systems will take time. But it is the perfect example of an idea that answers Secretary Pritzker’s charge to NACIE: With the right information, we can transform our economy to benefit everyone.  

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Skills Pillars in Ensuring U.S. Competitiveness

Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Skills Pillars in Ensuring U.S. Competitiveness

Guest blog post by Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., MBA and Member of the Commerce Department's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

It’s an honor to serve with such distinguished members of NACIE and to have a voice in this national conversation about innovation and entrepreneurship.  This is an especially personal topic to me. Innovation and entrepreneurship are in my blood – and a part of my heritage. I’m the son of international students from China who sought – and largely achieved – the American dream in Delaware, where I grew up and first discovered my love of science and technology. 

Like the children of many immigrants, I was born with high expectations from my high-achieving parents. My late father was an accomplished DuPont polymer engineer, process inventor, and NASA Lifetime Achievement Award-winner. My mother helped found the University of Delaware’s clinical chemistry department. As you can imagine, there was a lot of pressure on me and my siblings to excel.

My work at the University City Science Center has reinforced my belief that innovation and entrepreneurship define the origins and values of America. After all, as Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will remind you, Philly was home to the original American start-up, our nation. My home city’s long and storied history of innovation that began with the Founding Founders continues to this day.

Between bifocals and the lightning rod, Benjamin Franklin alone, was a one-person innovation ecosystem! However, one person alone, or even one industry alone, does not an ecosystem make! Instead, innovation thrives in a rainforest-like atmosphere when disparate, yet related groups convene, connect and have the opportunity to collaborate.

Cities and regions are poised to be the defining platform to grow innovation ecosystems. They are the rainforests where these innovation ecosystems can thrive. They also provide a hospitable environment for scalable innovation. I believe that scaling – the process of transitioning from the start-up to the manufacturing phase in a company’s early life – is the key to fulfilling the promise of innovation and creating good jobs.

Innovation Support is in Demand

Julie Kirk, Director, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

By Julie Kirk, Director, Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 

What do you get when you take a $15 million Regional Innovation Strategies program and add 254 applicants requesting more than $100 million in support? You get a very busy Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and compelling evidence that this program is crucial.

The Regional Innovation Strategies program was launched in September 2014 to spur innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation. Under this program, EDA solicited applications for three separate funding opportunities, including: the i6 Challenge, Science and Research Park Development grants, and cluster grants to support the development of Seed Capital Funds: 

  • i6 Challenge: The i6 Challenge, now in its forth iteration, is focused on accelerating the commercialization of technology. The 2014 i6 was broadened from the three previous challenges to include scaling of existing centers or programs and funding for later-stage Commercialization Centers.
  • Science/Research Parks: This new program provides funding for feasibility and planning of new or expanded Science/Research parks or renovation of existing facilities.
  • Cluster Grants for Seed Funds: Also new this year, this program provides funding for technical assistance to support feasibility, planning, formation, or launch of cluster-based seed capital funds that invest in growth-oriented, innovation-based start-up companies. Ultimately, the goal is to foster job creation. 

EDA is committed to helping foster connected, innovation-centric economic sectors which support commercialization and entrepreneurship. Working with regions across the country to develop regional innovation strategies, including regional innovation clusters, is also one of the Commerce Department’s strategic goals, and a keystone of the Secretary’s commitment to building globally competitive regions.  

This effort is also in line with the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda” priority to strengthen operational excellence: providing better services, solutions, and outcomes to better serve the American people. The overwhelming response by the application’s closing date on November 3 demonstrates that communities recognize the benefits of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem and could benefit from the kind of support offered by the Regional Innovation Strategies program.