By Alejandra Y. Castillo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
June 8, 2022
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) – the flagship program of the EDA’s US bailout programs – is a $1 billion investment in the competitiveness and prosperity of regional economies across the United States. It represents a bold belief that with the right resources, bottom-up and middle-level economic involvement of key stakeholders, and an inclusive strategy, all regions can successfully participate in the global economy and create good jobs for workers at all skill levels. For too many Americans, the pandemic represents just the latest economic shock that has hit their communities, slashed wages and wiped out entire local industries. Yet every region of the United States has existing assets that, with the right investments and stakeholder participation, can be leveraged to ensure that these places not only survive, but thrive in the modern global economy.
The BBBRC is already playing a catalytic role in regions across the country, bringing communities together to accelerate the development of innovative and inspiring economic development strategies that will transform the future for generations to come. Some of this collaboration might not have happened without BBBRC. The two-part competition will invest up to $100 million in 20-30 communities to implement multiple projects that together represent transformative economic development strategies.
Over the past few months, I have traveled the country to visit some of the Phase 1 finalists as part of EDA’s “Coalition Conversations”. I was truly moved by the enthusiasm and local commitment this challenge generated. While these conversations were separate from the competition and did not impact the merit review process, the coalitions invited to host a conversation took considerable effort and execution, allowing the EDA to learn from essential lessons and concepts. To begin with, economic development is a non-partisan issue that brings communities together. Additionally, regardless of the final rewards, the competition itself brought communities together in a new and urgent way that helped accelerate their regional strategies and plans for their local economies.
BBBRC is an evolution in the EDA approach. EDA has always funded relatively small independent projects. This program will provide a generation of economic development investments of $25 million to $75 million, and possibly up to $100 million to communities, in just five years.
The finalists represent a cross-section of the country, including 12 coal communities and 15 indigenous communities, as well as dozens of regions including both urban and rural areas. Each finalist builds different industry sectors – such as advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, agriculture, aerospace, among others – and each grapples with a different challenge and opportunity. Regardless of the final selection, EDA enables each finalist coalition to build a solid economic roadmap that works for their community. [Full list of finalists and industry sectors]
BBBRC’s innovative competitive structure has encouraged the development of true bottom-up strategies, as well as an acceleration of important local partnerships, leveraging federal funds with local investments, new multi-sector governance models, and blending and integration programs where the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.
The EDA also provides unprecedented support to finalists to help their projects succeed. Each finalist received a grant of approximately $500,000 to further develop their proposed projects. Additionally, we have created a community of practice to provide technical assistance and help finalists refine their economic vision for their region, but we also connect finalists with other federal agencies and funding resources. As part of our BBBRC Finalists Virtual Showcase last month, each finalist presented a 5-minute project pitch to corporate and philanthropic partners and funders. [Watch the finalist presentations.]
Thanks to President Biden, the EDA received $3 billion in U.S. bailout funding for critical programs to help communities rebuild from the economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as cope with years of disinvestment. The regional Build Back Better challenge helped highlight the immense need and market demand for local federal investment in every corner of the country.
To continue our vital mission of responding to the new challenges of economic development, EDA is currently working with Congress on legislation that would again empower our agency to evolve and modernize our tools to provide the services that communities across the country have needed to build contemporary and resilient economies. Click here for my full Senate testimony on reauthorization.
The reauthorization will allow EDA to respond to new economic development challenges, such as ensuring a fair and inclusive economy, combating climate change, helping Americans secure well-paying jobs, strengthening our domestic and global supply chain. and developing the manufacturing capacity to make goods in America. .
Our collective goal must be to best position EDA to support the competitive, innovative and impactful economic development strategies that our communities are pursuing today, such as those of the BBBRC.
The demand for these innovative financing opportunities is huge. The BBBRC received a total of 529 applications for the first phase of the competition, from which it selected 60 finalists to apply for Phase 2 funding. These finalists requested $4.3 billion in total investments for implementation. , more than four times the funding available.
The reauthorization would give the EDA the ability to adapt to help communities chart a course for a better future.
We expect to announce our final BBBRC selections by September 2022. All BBBRC finalist coalitions should be applauded for their commitment to fostering equitable and sustainable economic development in communities across our country. I hope this will inspire other regions to create their own coalitions and develop big, ambitious projects. EDA will be there to partner with you.