A coalition consisting of Georgia Tech, the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Spelman College, the Technical College System of Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, is among 60 finalists that will receive a grant of $500,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, as part of The Build Back Better Regional Challenge. 

Overall, the $1 billion “Build Back Better  Regional Challenge” is the centerpiece of the EDA’s American Rescue Plan programs – which aims to boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild American communities, including some that  have been grappling with decades of disinvestment. The Build Back Better Regional Challenge provides transformative investments – up to $100 million per grantee – 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. 

“When I was named president of my alma mater, in 2019, I was with Jay,” Georgia Tech president Angel Cabrera said, describing his meeting with Jay Bailey, CEO of the Russell Innovation Center and Entrepreneurs. “And it was very, very clear that the opportunity for Atlantis to be an example not just of innovation, but open, inclusive innovation. We have all the elements. It’s our collective responsibility to put those pieces together to make sure we’re an example of a place where new economic opportunities are open to everybody.”

In this case, the Atlanta-based coalition will utilize the grant for technical assistance to plan the Georgia Artificial Intelligence Manufacturing Corridor (GA-AIM). Led by Georgia Tech, GA-AIM will fill existing technology gaps, build a technological opportunity framework that includes underrepresented communities and rural Georgia counties, and better secure the state’s manufacturing infrastructure. Additionally, Georgia Tech’s Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility will be transformed into the AI Manufacturing Pilot Facility. The new facility allows for government pilot trials, cybersecurity games, and workforce training to innovate, transition, and create a workforce for AI manufacturing technologies without exposing the region’s supply chains to risk.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks to the crowd at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs on Monday, December 13, 2021. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Secondly, Spelman’s Innovation Lab will develop virtual reality technology for training or retraining the GA-AIM workforce to make workers comfortable with new technologies before deployment in real-world applications.

Next, The Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs will create the 5,000-square-foot LaunchPad AI Innovation Studio to provide prototyping and proof of concept development of physical products. Black entrepreneurs will be given access to equipment, training, and mentoring. LaunchPad AI will also be open to AI InVenture teams from Atlanta’s K-12 public schools, with special programs designed for startup mentoring and seed funding for K-12 entrepreneurs.

Lastly, the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) will design, develop, and implement curricula at community colleges that include apprenticeships at AI-MPF and virtual reality modules from Spelman. The TCSG will also provide regional entry points for dual enrollment and traditional students to AI manufacturing technical education at certificate and degree levels. Graduates will have exit points that lead directly to careers in the industry or provide for the continuation of education and higher degree attainment through articulation agreements among GA-AIM members.

“I’m thrilled to be here today to announce a half million dollar planning grant that’s going to help create jobs right here in Atlanta and move our economy into the future,” Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock said. “And I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind folks that these are investments that Georgians made possible when they sent me to the Senate, and made it possible for us to pass the American Rescue Plan, as has already been said, elections map, a matter here in Georgia, and in this case, in matter for the whole country.”

U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock delivers a speech at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs on Monday, December 13, 2021. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Chosen from a pool of 529 applicants, These grants will help the finalists take their projects to the next level and position those who ultimately do not receive Phase 2 implementation awards to find new partners and sources of funding. The program has already catalyzed new partnerships and creative approaches to regional economic development. 

“What I have seen has convinced me that what you have here in Atlanta is incredibly special,” U.S Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said. “And I am proud that we’ve chosen Atlanta to make this announcement and I’m proud that we’ve chosen your coalition as among the 60, to get one of these planning grants, and I have total confidence in what’s happening here.”

According to a release, the 60 finalists have proposed projects that will develop or scale industry sectors, develop and train the workforce of today, and build resilient  economies. Finalists will now compete for Phase 2 of the Challenge, which will award 20-30 regional coalitions up to $100 million to implement 3-8 projects that support an industry sector. The deadline for Phase 2 is March 15, 2022. 

“And in that coalition is Georgia Tech, obviously Spelman College, the Technical College System of Georgia,” Raimondo said. “I love that. That is important. That’s the part nobody’s getting left behind. You go to a technical college, you’re a rural Georgian, and you’re the first kid in your family to go to a technical college. These jobs are for you. They’re coming to you. That impressed me so much that this was part of this coalition of the Russell center, and others. It’s an incredible coalition. It’s a coalition committed to equity.”

Members of the Georgia Tech delegation pose for photos with representatives from Spelman College, the Russell Center, and the Technical College System of Georgia and U.S. Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, center, on Monday, December 13, 2021. (Photo by: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...