Q&A:Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Erskine
Regional Innovation Strategies, at the Forefront of Economic Development, Yield Results
Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Erskine attend a quarterly meeting of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in November.
Matt Erskine, of the Economic Development Administration (EDA), was appointed deputy assistant secretary of commerce and chief operating officer in September 2011. Before joining the Obama administration, Erskine worked in the private and public sectors, including serving as deputy secretary of the Virginia Department of Commerce and Trade. Erskine shared with us his thoughts about EDA's recent accomplishments and what he sees in store for 2013.
Q:What have been EDA's most significant accomplishments over the past year?
A: EDA has just closed out a fiscal year that's been more productive than ever. And in a time of tight budgets, economic challenges, and political gridlock, we were tremendously successful in fulfilling our core responsibility of partnering with our grantees to make long-term, merit-based catalytic investments that will equip America's regions to compete in the global marketplace. You can see that in the hundreds of grants we made this year under EDA's traditional development programs, which are helping communities find new engines of job creation and recover from the deepest economic downturn this country has experienced in generations. And you can see that in the important work we are doing to help eligible communities respond to and mitigate natural disasters through the $200 million that was appropriated to us by Congress to help them with long-term economic recovery and infrastructure support.
EDA was also instrumental this year in the continued implementation of the challenge grant programs that are an important part of President Obama's push to create an economy that is "built to last." In partnership with several other federal agencies, in 2012 we awarded $9 million to 13 winners of the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, $7 million to the seven winners of the 2012 i6 Challenge, $1 million each to three winners of the second Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Challenge, and $6.5 million to 10 winners of the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.
Q:What is your vision for EDA for the next year?
A: There is a continued need for leadership on strategies and programs that support the long-term economic well-being of our country. Communities and regions cannot allow their future to be determined by chance. They need to rethink how they approach economic development. Many are already defining what they are good at and identifying what existing assets they can build on and leverage, what competitive advantages they possess, and what high-growth industries will be on the horizon. EDA will continue to play a pivotal role in that process by working with communities and stakeholders to fund planning studies and analyses; facilitate partnerships between business, higher education, and government; and provide grants for infrastructure when development plans are ready to go.
Our approach is working in countless places across the country. In Prince George County, Virginia, for example, a partnership between the federal government, the state government, the state's two largest four-year universities, and the local community college-together with local manufacturers-established the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing. This center is addressing workforce and applied research issues, and it will support a new Rolls Royce facility that recently opened nearby. That new plant is manufacturing advanced components for aircraft engines, almost all of which will be exported. This is an excellent example of how a community-especially a distressed one-can leverage its strengths, bring together strategic partners, and create jobs. The economic benefits will reverberate throughout the region.
Of course, over the coming year EDA will continue to invest in competitive projects under its regular quarterly funding cycle. We will also make the funding opportunity announcement for the exciting Make it in America initiative that Acting Secretary Blank announced in late September. This $40 million, multi-agency challenge will help communities that are poised to attract a major investment, but just need a little more help to get the deal done. For example, maybe a city needs a better road to an industrial site, or maybe a manufacturer looking to relocate is seeking better information and technical assistance, or maybe local workers need a tailored training program to fill a particular skills gap. This competition will provide the critical infrastructure, strategic planning, capacity building, technical assistance, and workforce development resources that will help American communities be the desired home for more businesses. Up to 15 projects will be selected through this challenge to help create an economy built to last.
Q:What is EDA's biggest asset?
A: That's a simple answer: EDA's biggest asset is its people, with their expertise, intimate knowledge of local conditions, and person-to-person connections throughout the country. As the only federal agency with economic development as its sole mission, EDA plays an important role in strengthening regional economies so that the United States can out-innovate, out-build, and out-compete the rest of the world. And we take on that task with a very small staff working out of our six regional offices and our headquarters here in Washington, D.C. Our people possess unique knowledge that they bring to the communities we serve. Whether they are civil engineers, construction project managers, economic development representatives, or administrative specialists-they know their stuff! And when I speak with grantees, I hear over and over again how the knowledge and expertise of EDA's staff has worked not just to the benefit of the particular project being funded, but to the economic well-being of the entire surrounding community.
Strengthening Manufacturing at Home
Advanced Manufacturing Projects Awarded Funding
Ten public-private partnerships were awarded a total of $6.5 million to help revitalize American manufacturing and encourage companies to invest in the United States. The partnerships, announced October 9, were selected through the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, which is a competitive multi-agency grant process announced in May 2012 to support initiatives that strengthen advanced manufacturing at the local level. The Challenge is a partnership between EDA and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the National Science Foundation.
Make it in America Challenge Announced
In September, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank announced the Make it in America Challenge, which is an initiative designed to accelerate the trend of insourcing—that is, companies bringing jobs back and making additional investments in America. The competition is being funded by EDA, the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. It will build upon the administration’s bottom-up approach to strengthening the economy and creating jobs by partnering with state, regional, and local economies. Stay tuned for details on how to apply.
Promoting American Innovation and Strengthening Entrepreneurship
i6 Challenge Winners to Jumpstart the Innovation Economy
Seven winning projects-based in California, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin-will each receive up to $1 million to fund proof of concept centers under the latest round of the Obama administration’s i6 Challenge. The projects incorporate a range of services, such as technology and market evaluation and business planning, that are critical to regional economic growth and job creation. They will spur sustainable startups, small businesses, and new ventures. Launched in 2010 as a component of the White House’s Startup America initiative, the i6 Challenge is led by the E /DA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Members of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and representatives of institutions of higher education listen to a presentation by Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank at the White House Conference Center on
University Leaders and Obama Administration Accelerate Commercialization Efforts
Leaders from numerous institutions of higher learning convened with members of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) on October 1 to report on the ways they are leading the charge to create new entrepreneurial ecosystems. About 300 participants renewed their commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship on their campuses and in their communities, and asked for the continued support of the federal government in improving these critical components of the American economy.
Economic Recovery after Disasters
Helping Communities Affected by Disaster
One of EDA’s key roles following a major disaster is to help facilitate and coordinate economic recovery with communities impacted by natural disasters. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states in November, EDA joined with several other federal agencies to deploy staff to help hard-hit communities throughout the region. EDA team members have been working with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, economic development partners, and the affected communities to identify long-term strategies that will help the communities restore their local economies, expedite recovery, and minimize economic losses.
This response by EDA and other federal agencies marked the first time that the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) was implemented for a disaster of Sandy’s significance since it was unveiled by the Obama administration in September 2011. The NDRF is a multiagency effort designed to better coordinate federal response to work more efficiently and effectively with states and communities impacted by major disasters. It seeks to achieve this by establishing structures, defining leadership roles and responsibilities, and guiding coordination and recovery planning at all levels of government.
EDA has also continued to work with communities throughout the Midwest that have been affected by the worst drought the United States has experienced in many years. In October and November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered with the Department of Commerce, SBA, and FEMA to conduct a series of four regional workshops that outlined resources that are available to assist drought-stricken communities with their recovery efforts. EDA was a partner on the these important workshops, which were held in Omaha, Nebraska; Pueblo, Colorado; Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Archbold, Ohio.
The workshops provided state and local officials with information about how they can use existing programs to speed recovery efforts and develop long-term strategies for rebuilding their economies. These include such things as help with building economic recovery planning capacity, connecting with alternative sources of capital access for small-business recovery, and retaining highly skilled workers in affected regions.