Hubs and Snubs: A Federal Largesse Scorecard



This DOE illustration may remind some of the pioneering SimCity video game franchise, but the seven designated Hydrogen Hubs have real potential.

Illustration courtesy of DOE

Two weeks ago the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) designated 31 Tech Hubs in the first phase of a new program “designed to drive regional innovation and job creation by strengthening a region’s capacity to manufacture, commercialize, and deploy technology that will advance American competitiveness,” the announcement read. “The program invests directly in burgeoning, high-potential U.S. regions and aims to transform them into globally competitive innovation centers.”

Some of those regions are already well beyond burgeoning, but never you mind. The idea is to distribute the funding and watch coalitions work their magic. Along the way, everyone will find out which clusters have real institutional ballast and momentum and which might tend toward keyword-heavy creative visualizations from superior grant application writers.

The Tech Hubs list touches 32 states and Puerto Rico. EDA also awarded 29 Strategy Development Grants (SDG) “to help communities significantly increase local coordination and planning activities. Such development could make selected grantees more competitive for future Tech Hubs funding opportunities.” Among the grantees, 10 were Tech Hub designees and 19 of them were not.

Led by universities or regional or state economic development agencies, the coalitions include a number of efforts aimed at energy and materials topics. Among the lengthiest names is the Regional Energy Business, Education, and Commercialization Convergence Accelerator Energy Strategy Development Consortium led by the University of Louisville Research Foundation. But the name may be intentionally long in order to be accurately acronymed “REBECCA.”



Then there’s the National Science Foundation’s Research Innovation Engines program. Authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act, the program launched with 44 NSF Engines Development Awards in May of up to $1 million each, followed by 34 semi-finalists announced in June and 16 finalists announced in August. “NSF anticipates announcing the NSF Engines awards this winter, with each awardee initially receiving about $15 million for the first two years,” the NSF said in August. “Each NSF Engine could receive up to $160 million over 10 years; actual amounts will be subject to a given NSF Engine's status and overall progress, as assessed annually.”

Don’t forget the $7 billion Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program (H2Hubs), which announced seven officially designated coalitions in October. Each of them will receive anywhere from $750 million to $1.2 billion, to be matched by selectees’ cost share of more than $40 billion. The Biden-Harris administration was careful to say each hub was “selected for negotiations” for its award.

All of which drove me to consider: Which locations are hogging federal program attention with multiple awards? Who’s on the outside looking in? How can we keep track of it all?

A primitive scoreboard is a start. The chart below includes a check mark every time a state is home to or part of an award-winning coalition across the range of programs, including the NSF Engines finalists.

State Part of Tech Hub SDG Location Hydrogen Hub NSF Engine
Idaho ✓✓
Illinois ✓✓ ✓✓
Maryland ✓✓
Michigan ✓✓
Missouri ✓✓
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York ✓✓ ✓✓
North Carolina ✓✓ ✓✓
North Dakota
Oklahoma ✓✓
Oregon ✓✓ ✓✓
Pennsylvania ✓✓
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island ✓✓
South Carolina
South Dakota
Texas ✓✓
Washington ✓✓
West Virginia ✓✓
Wisconsin ✓✓✓

Only three states earn five checks: Illinois, Oregon and Texas. Coalitions include NSF Engine finalist Quantum Crossroads, led by the University of Chicago, and similarly focused Tech Hub Designee the Bloch Tech Hub led by the Chicago Quantum Exchange. The designee narrative submitted by the latter group notes that the CQE, like Quantum Crossroads, is based at the University of Chicago. The contact name is Meera Raja, the VP of Deep Tech at public-private tech economy coalition P33, formed by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and other leaders in 2018.

Oregon’s award winners include the Corvallis Microfluidics Tech Hub and Pacific Northwest Smart Energy Strategy Development Consortium (both part of one of the 31 chosen Tech Hubs) as well as the PNWH2 Hub coalition, one of the seven designated hydrogen hubs.

Texas organizations include the Secure Manufacturing in South Texas Strategy Development Consortium led by UT-San Antonio and the Texoma Semiconductor Tech Hub led by Southern Methodist University. Texas too is part of a hydrogen hub, the Gulf Coast Hydrogen Hub based out of Houston.

States earning four check marks apiece include Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The three-check-marks club includes Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia.

Seemingly left out in the federal funding cold, at least as far as these programs are concerned: Arkansas, Hawaii and next-door neighbors Iowa and Nebraska, which tend toward self-sufficiency in any case. Among other things, Iowa continues to further its sustainability profile with a large volume of wind energy, and the Nebraska Innovation Campus, which fosters connections between private enterprise and the University of Nebraska, in October was named Outstanding Research Park at the Association of University Research Parks’ 2023 International Conference.

Visit the links above to learn details about each state’s consortia and their areas of work and expertise. If the promoted cluster isn’t already welcoming partnering opportunities, it may be soon. — Adam Bruns

NSF Engine Finalist Locations

Sixteen finalist locations were announced by the National Science Foundation’s Research Innovation Engines program in August after awards of up to $1 million went to the above 44 coalitions in May.

Map courtesy of NSF