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News | Jan. 8, 2024

Institutes Play Increasing Role in Driving Economic Impact

By America Makes, BioMADE, CyManII, ARM, BioFabUSA, PowerAmerica

America Makes Ecosystem Director Kimberly Gibson, a municipal planner by training, was involved in the national additive manufacturing institute at its inception more than 12 years ago. She saw the proposed innovation institute as a pathway to help reinvent Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing and industrial base from its legacy of coal, steel, and autos. 

Since that time, Gibson has been involved at another institute in the Manufacturing USA network (LIFT) and has worked in the private sector, operating her own small additive company, before joining America Makes. She has seen how America Makes plays a key role in driving advances in technology that have a global impact while growing the additive ecosystem in Akron and Youngstown.

Photo of Kimberly Gibson, America Makes, speaking at America Makes' annual members meeting
Kimberly Gibson speaks at America Makes' annual Members Meeting and Exchange.

Now that additive technology has matured, Gibson sees a different mindset about how to create a climate for manufacturers to succeed. This includes an infusion of economic development interests to stimulate the kinds of investments necessary for new companies to succeed or to help existing companies adapt before they fail or their services become obsolete. From Gibson’s unique vantage point, it’s essential for America Makes to work globally with companies on the technology side and convene local stakeholders to help companies get capital, physical space, talent, and more to succeed commercially.

“America Makes, as a platform, has the ability to make a big impact on our economic climate,” she says. “In every region, it’s the same 100 people who come together to make deals – that’s how economic development works. You have to get into the trenches with your constituents whether it’s about attracting a new company to the region or brownfield projects to revitalize old sites.”

Other institutes are engaging more actively in economic development circles to build out regional ecosystems and drive impact from their research and development. Institute officials working closely with their local constituents see these efforts as a way to lower barriers for businesses and as a “force multiplier” to grow local companies and create hubs that can be replicated elsewhere.


Several of the 17 institutes in the Manufacturing USA network are often key players in convening stakeholders for their region’s economic development. Two of the institutes received significant funding from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency (EDA) Build Back Better (BBB) initiative, and three institutes recently received EDA grants associated with the CHIPS and Science Act. Another institute’s host received a grant from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) funding from the CHIPS and Science Act. 

These are:

  • ARM Institute in Pittsburgh received $14.2 million of the region’s $62.7 million Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative BBB grant to create a Robotics Manufacturing Hub and support four innovation accelerators in an 11-county region. 
  • BioFabUSA, whose parent organization, the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI), was awarded $34M of the City of Manchester’s $44 million BBB grant and also leads the ReGen Valley Tech Hub, which was recently designated by EDA as one of 31 national Tech Hubs.
  • America Makes is a partner in the new Sustainable Polymers Tech Hub, which is led by the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce.
  • CyManII led the Secure Manufacturing in South Texas Strategy Development Consortium in its application for an EDA Tech Hub. The consortium of 13 organizations in San Antonio was awarded a Strategy Development Grant to develop a regional coalition and innovation roadmap to mature cybersecurity and secure manufacturing technologies. 
  • PowerAmerica’s home institution, North Carolina State University, received a $39.4 million DoD grant to build the Commercial Leap Ahead for WideBandgap Semiconductors (CLAWS) semiconductor research hub.

The BioMADE institute is also part of a nationwide biomanufacturing economic development initiative to construct a network of bioindustrial manufacturing facilities. Industry stakeholders envision 12 to 15 pilot-scale biomanufacturing sites that are critically needed to develop the domestic infrastructure for the emerging bioeconomy.

The Manufacturing USA institutes are funded by the DoD, Department of Energy (DOE), and Commerce (DOC). They are built on a public-private model that convenes stakeholders to create an ecosystem of member companies, higher education, and government and research entities. The federal funding is tied directly to missions of developing technology, the domestic supply chain, and workforce. 

The EDA Tech Hubs illustrate how bringing in additional funding allows the institutes to expand their influence both into their communities and with their members. The institutes already are helping convene and facilitate some of these crucial economic development relationships and activities; now they can help drive them. These relationships bring additional opportunities for advanced manufacturing impact at both the regional and national levels.


Gibson says she chose to return to America Makes in part because she saw the opportunity for institutes to work more closely with companies that were ready to transition from a working model stage to incorporating technology into commercial design and deployment. She says one unintended consequence of small companies being bought for a specific technology is that other innovations and applications might get stranded in the lab. She sees the success of innovative companies as essential to preserve America’s economic security and global influence. 

"America Makes, as a platform, has the ability to make a big impact on our economic climate. In every region, it’s the same 100 people who come together to make deals – that’s how economic development works. You have to get into the trenches with your constituents whether it’s about attracting a new company to the region or brownfield projects to revitalize old sites.”

One way America Makes keeps the innovation pipeline flowing is by collaborating with the Akron area on concepts related to a sustainable polymers Tech Hub. This includes identifying and researching adoption challenges in Polymer-based 3D Printing, such as recycled and upcycled feedstock, assessment tools, and more. The Akron area has the largest concentration of plastics and rubber manufacturing plants, machines, and materials in North America and is positioned to establish global leadership in sustainable technology in those areas.

Gibson describes this as an opportunity to establish industry standardization for additive manufacturing while seeking input from the economic development stakeholders and creating the physical infrastructure needed to do the work. As Manufacturing USA’s most mature institute, she sees America Makes in a position to help create a path forward to modernize the supply base through a dedicated focus on aligning local ecosystems around manufacturing technology imperatives. The idea is a measurable and repeatable process to accelerate technology adoption that could help other critical industries.


PowerAmerica is a key player in the power semiconductor ecosystem nationally, with deep roots in the central NC region, where Wolfspeed has announced plans to construct a $4.8 billion silicon carbide materials plant. PowerAmerica, a DoE-supported institute, has worked with Wolfspeed to help qualify their advanced power semiconductors for electric vehicles and other key applications for high voltage and maximum efficiency. 

Like other institutes, PowerAmerica works with private companies, universities, and National Labs on the engineering and education sides of the business to de-risk technology and make it more attractive to investors. While PowerAmerica does not make recommendations on investments, convening the right people within the semiconductor ecosystem does help connect customers and suppliers to advance the mission. 

The ecosystem’s clout was recognized in the recent award of $39.4 million to North Carolina State University to build a semiconductor research hub. This DoD funding is for the Commercial Leap Ahead for Wide Bandgap Semiconductors Hub, or CLAWS, which will create a semiconductor research foundry to advance next generation chips and fabrication technology. 

CLAWS is one of eight federal research hubs around the U.S. created from the CHIPS and Science Act. The hubs are charged with developing the physical, digital, and human infrastructure needed to support microelectronics research and development. Hubs are expected to become self-sufficient by the end of their initial five-year awards.


The CyManII institute is only three years old, but it is embarking on its first economic development initiative. Its leadership is keen on how non-technology investments are needed to accelerate the enablement of the cybersecurity ecosystem, according to Paris Stringfellow, the institute’s Director of Growth and Sustainability.

EDA’s Tech Hubs are designed for companies that are close to commercial manufacturing. As a newer institute, much of CyManII’s efforts are in advancing research through development and testing. They work on integrating information technology (IT) with operational technology (OT). Their successes help companies produce more secure and sustainable enterprise resource planning software, other operational software, and system integrations for the end users.

As architects, CyManII sees a potentially different process for tech transfer, working to boost deployment of innovations at scale. CyManII and Stringfellow led a consortium of 13 organizations in applying for an EDA Tech Hub grant. They were not awarded a Tech Hub, but they did win a Strategy Development Grant, which enables the consortia to increase local coordination and planning activities to further develop their technology-based regional economic development strategy. The Secure Manufacturing in South Texas Strategy Development Consortium will develop an innovation roadmap for cybersecurity and secure manufacturing technologies. The effort will be led by the University of Texas at San Antonio, which is where CyManII is based.


ARMI’s Chief Innovation Officer, Julie Lenzer, is leading the consortium of more than 30 community, industry, and academic partners in developing projects that will make ReGen Valley the global epicenter for biofabrication within the next decade. She says the institute is in the lead role from an economic development perspective because the manufacturing platform being developed by BioFabUSA and its members is forming the basis for this new industry. She points out that the EDA investment provides a nice complement to the DoD-funded BioFabUSA program’s focus on technology innovation and workforce development. 

“We’re a convener, setting the table and driving the manufacturing technologies that form the basis of the inclusive economic growth that the coalition was created to support.”

The Tech Hub will drive global impact while the BBB grant ensures the local community, especially those in low-income and underrepresented populations, benefits economically from its growth. Companies will have access to resources, research facilities, funding, and a pipeline of trained workers. The partners include educational institutions, community non-profits, local labor unions, and affordable housing organizations.

The national focus of BioFabUSA and the local focus of the EDA funding are highly synergistic. For example, a number of  workforce development programs, including a recently-launched Registered Apprenticeship Program, are funded by DoD for national impact. The largest programmatic component of the EDA BBB funding is focused on connecting local residents to these training and education programs while also providing services such as access to transportation and childcare.

“We’re a convener, setting the table and driving the manufacturing technologies that form the basis of the inclusive economic growth that the coalition was created to support,” Lenzer said. “We have to build a model hub in the Manchester/Nashua area before we can replicate these capabilities in other places and establish ourselves as the global leader.”


The ARM Institute has become a key player in the robotics sector in Pittsburgh. Their Robotics Manufacturing Hub opened in April, offering free or low-cost services for qualifying manufacturers to fix specific manufacturing and integration issues. ARM Institute Outreach Manager Livia Rice says demand was high from the start, especially from existing companies looking to automate operations to stay competitive and enable long-term growth. The Hub has quickly filled its pipeline, helping to fill a critical robotics manufacturing skills gap that is increasingly driving the industrial economy. 

The EDA grants are also helping fund programming, equipment, and services at four community college “innovation accelerators” in the outlying Southwestern Pennsylvania area to give students, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers access to these resources.


By growing their respective technology ecosystems, the Manufacturing USA institutes are creating better climates for manufacturers to adopt innovative applications and grow their businesses. Their economic development activities will strengthen the supply chain and competitive position of U.S. manufacturing companies. This, in turn, will provide pathways to Americans seeking rewarding, living-wage jobs, and contribute to stronger local, regional, and national communities.

In 2022, the institutes collectively worked with over 2,500 member organizations to collaborate on more than 670 major technology and workforce research and development projects and engaged over 106,000 people in advanced manufacturing training. State, industry, and federal funds contributed $416 million to these activities. 

To learn about the many ways institutes are driving economic growth, visit the impact section of our website.