Federal money is flowing to the Pittsburgh area to help build a robotics and autonomy cluster. The Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative today announced the receipt of a $62.7 million federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant awarded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, or EDA.
The southwestern Pennsylvania region is one of only 21 applicants to receive this funding. It was among the 60 finalists involved in Phase 2 of the Build Back Better Challenge. Phase 1 of the challenge involved 529 submissions for funding to advance industry-development projects across the U.S.
The collaborative board has met since autumn 2021 to pursue a federal Build Back Better investment for what it said was ” a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build the region’s robotics and autonomy technology sector.” The board is co-chaired by Stefani Pashman, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, and Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University.
The Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative said its partners include labor groups, educational institutions, workforce and economic development organizations, businesses, and more. During the application process, the collaborative convened a coalition of more than 90 public and private organizations representing 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The counties were Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland. The Pittsburgh Robotics Network (PRN) is representing the robotics industry, and it will collaborate with Innovation Works on one of the projects.
“The collaborative extends its sincere gratitude to the Biden administration and the U.S. EDA for selecting southwestern Pennsylvania as a Build Back Better grant recipient,” said the board in a statement. “The collaborative also thanks U.S. Senator Bob Casey and U.S. Representatives Mike Doyle and Conor Lamb for their commitment to the region’s success in the challenge.”
“Already known as a hub for innovation and cutting-edge technology, this $62.7 million investment will further fuel Southwestern Pennsylvania as a global leader in robotics and artificial intelligence,” stated Tom Wolf, governor of Pennsylvania. “These dollars will help to grow family-sustaining jobs and spur economic opportunity across the region by supporting prospective employers and employees with investments in infrastructure, workforce training, and commercialization.
Five southwestern Pennsylvania projects funded
The Build Back Better grant will fund five regional projects. They are designed to provide long-term opportunities for the individuals, businesses, and communities in southwestern Pennsylvania to become involved in the growing robotics and autonomy industry.
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 Build Back Better grant will bring renewed vitality to our 11-county region and enhance opportunities for a wide band of people, businesses, and places in ways we have not seen before,” said Pashman. “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.”
“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,” she said.
“Southwestern Pennsylvania winning this significant Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant is a testament to the sheer power of collaboration that’s been so integral to the transformation of our regional economy,” added Jahanian. “This effort will catalyze new programs and partnerships that share our region’s distinctive strengths in robotics, AI, and automation with new and small businesses in our key sectors, while elevating and training a more resilient workforce.”
“By expanding the geography of these innovations, Carnegie Mellon is thrilled to work with partners to broaden accessibility to our nation's technologically driven economy to all in our region,” he said.
Projects to focus on robotics adoption, training, and commercialization
The projects that will be funded by the Build Back Better grant will rely on one another to ensure mutual success, said Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative. The five projects that will receive funding are focused on robotics adoption, “upskilling infrastructure,” and commercialization in the robotics sector.
- Small & Medium Enterprises (SME) Robotics Adoption, led by Catalyst Connection—This $4.8 million grant will focus on boosting regional competitiveness by bringing Pennsvylania’s innovations to SMEs in industries such as agriculture, construction, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, mining, and transportation.
- Robotics Manufacturing Hub, led by The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute—A $14.2 million grant is intended to de-risk the adoption of advanced robotics and automation by SMEs and accelerate the commercialization of technologies in these entities.
- Expanded Pathways to New Economy Careers, led by Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission—A $24.8 million grant will establish a highly coordinated, regional upskilling system serving both robotics developers and adopters. It will support a range of training options outside of traditional four-year and advanced degrees and ensuring that programs evolve in the long term based on industry needs.
- Robotics Startup Factory, led by Innovation Works—The $12 million grant will go to the creation an Applied Robotics Startup Factory to help startups focusing on automation in multiple sectors, including (but not limited to) agriculture, construction, mining, energy, warehousing, and manufacturing. The PRN will support the Factory's development by providing industry outreach and engagement, as well as developing a network of advisors and corporate partners.
- Expanded Pathways to Entrepreneurship, led by InnovatePGH—This $6.9 million grant is designed to increase pathways into the robotics and autonomy industries for underrepresented populations and launching new minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) that can support the innovation economy.
As each of these projects work together to grow the region’s impact and leadership in robotics and autonomy, the collaborative said it and its public and private partners expect to see each project from beginning through completion.
Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area are already home to nearly 1,800 technology firms, including more than 100 robotics companies, according to the collaborative.