Pittsburgh does not have what it takes to be designated a national biotech hub, according to the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
At the end of the summer, nearly 400 consortia across the country submitted their applications for Phase 1 of the EDA Tech Hubs program. The initiative called for consortia consisting of economic development groups, universities and local government officials to show the ways in which their regions have existing or potential hubs of innovation.
Pittsburgh represented one of the regions vying for the designation — plus the tens of millions of dollars that could have come in Phase 2, kicking off this fall. Yet it wasn’t one of the 31 hubs announced on Monday.
“These outstanding Tech Hubs Designees exemplify place-based economic development strategies at their best: combining federal resources with regional assets, expertise, and coalitions to implement transformational opportunities,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo said in the announcement.
In August, leaders of Pittsburgh’s sole consortium, which consisted of InnovatePGH, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and other unnamed institutions, told Technical.ly their application centered on the region’s biomanufacturing economy. The appeal of the designation was the federal government’s promise to help regions without the same funding or name recognition as Silicon Valley become global competitors and assist the US in its aims to become a major player in high-tech manufacturing.
At the time, Kinsey Casey, Pitt’s vice chancellor for economic development for health sciences, felt that focus was the city’s best bet due to the success its life sciences sector had already accumulated through the years.
“We wanted to figure out how we could differentiate ourselves from other regions that want to be biotech,” Casey said. “Where we really think we have an interesting strength is in partnership with [Carnegie Mellon University] and their robotics, AI [and] advanced manufacturing.”
Casey told Technical.ly via email this week that although they’re disappointed in not winning a Tech Hubs designation, the consortium’s leaders are committed to continuing to contribute to the region’s technology sector. More than that, Casey wrote, consortium members still believe that the life sciences sector remains a point of pride for Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh’s role in the life sciences remains vital, with healthcare and medical advances being local drivers, the region’s strength in AI, robotics, and innovation, and the future biomanufacturing facility in the Pitt BioForge,” she said. “The work will continue through the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Alliance which will seek alternative funding strategies to advance the proposal’s integral components.”
Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Energy announced hydrogen hub designees, awarding funding to proposals centered on West Virginia and Philadelphia, among other areas, but not to a Pittsburgh-focused plan.
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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