RALEIGH – The Commerce Department today is launching the application process for cities to receive a total of $500 million in grants to become technology hubs. Can a North Carolina city – or two – win one?

By the way, billions more in funding could be coming later. So the prize for winning a hub is lucrative. Then there is the prestige – and a possible halo effect of stimulating more business recruiting – that such a hub or two to bring. Remember Amazon HQ2? Our state almost won it. And big wins have come lately such as Toyota, VinFast, Wolfspeed, Boom Supersonic with economic developers from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina to Wake County Economic Development saying  pipelines of projects are full. So the hunt for big trophies continues.

Let’s take a look at the “Regional Technology and Innovation Hub Program.”

The $500 million is part of a $10 billion authorization from last year’s CHIPS and Science Act to stimulate investments in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and biotech. It’s an attempt to expand tech investment that is largely concentrated around a few U.S. cities — Austin, Texas; Boston; New York; San Francisco; and Seattle — to the rest of the country.

The Research Triangle’s own tech prowess was not mentioned in the Associated Press report, but Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill make up not only one of the nation’s top tech hubs. The Triangle region is a big center for life science and biotech.

Then there is Charlotte for fintech. The list of N.C. contenders goes on goes on, such as the Carolina Core stretching from south of the Triangle to the Triad – soon to be the home of EV maker VinFast, Wolfspeed’s new chip foundry, a Toyota EV battery plant and much more.

Our state also aligns in many ways with federal priorities for the program – artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotech, more – as outlined below.

So given the state’s ability to lure businesses (No. 1 in 2022 says Site Selection magazine; top state for business, says CNBC) one has to suspect North Carolina leaders will apply – and be contenders.

North Carolina is No. 1 for business, says CNBC in new report

To qualify for the tech hub money, each applicant will need a partnership that includes one or more companies, a state development agency, worker training programs, a university and state and local government leaders. Roughly 20 cities are expected to be designated as tech hubs with 10 eventually receiving funding.

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“This is about taking these places on the edge of glory to being world leaders,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told The Associated Press. “My job is to enhance America’s competitiveness.”

The Biden administration has made it a priority to set an industrial strategy of directing government investment into computer chips, clean energy and a range of other technologies. Officials say that being leaders in those fields will foster economic and national security, reflecting a belief that the best way to compete against China’s ascendance will come from building internal strength.

The tech hubs are meant to build up areas that already have major research specialties but lack the access to financing that could fuel stronger growth and business formation in those fields. Pockets of the U.S. already have leading-edge tech such as medical devices in Minnesota, robotics in Pittsburgh and agricultural technology in Fresno, California. But the challenge has been finding ways to boost those fields so that government investment leads to more support from private capital.

 “Challenges and focus areas”

A review of the “challenges and focus areas” the feds are looking at as priorities for the hubs:

The initial list of societal, national, and geostrategic challenges are the following:

(1) United States national security.

(2) United States manufacturing and industrial productivity.

(3) United States workforce development and skills gaps.

(4) Climate change and environmental sustainability.

(5) Inequitable access to education, opportunity, or other services.

Initial list of key technology focus areas:

The initial list of key technology focus areas are the following, as listed by the Commerce Department:

(1) Artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, and related advances.

(2) High performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware and software.

(3) Quantum information science and technology.

(4) Robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing.

(5) Natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation.

(6) Advanced communications technology and immersive technology.

(7) Biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology.

(8) Data storage, data management, distributed ledger technologies, and cybersecurity, including biometrics.

(9) Advanced energy and industrial efficiency technologies, such as batteries and advanced nuclear technologies, including but not limited to for the purposes of electric generation (consistent with section 1874 of this title.

(10) Advanced materials science, including composites 2D materials, other next-generation materials, and related manufacturing technologies.

‘Shouldn’t have to move to Silicon Valley’

President Joe Biden hopes to broaden the funding over time, requesting in his budget proposal that Congress appropriate another $4 billion for it over the next two years. Raimondo said that she expects a large number of applications from across the political spectrum.

The tech hubs program ties into a political message that Biden has delivered in speeches. The Democratic president has said that people should not feel forced to leave their hometowns to find good jobs nor should opportunity cluster in just a few parts of the country while other regions struggle.

“You shouldn’t have to move to Silicon Valley if you’re a scientist with a great idea,” Raimondo said.