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Speeches/Remarks

Dennis Alvord
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development and Chief Operating Officer
The Alliance for Regional Development/Federal
Reserve Bank of Chicago
2020 Summit on Regional Competitiveness
‘A New Decade: Disruption, Driving Innovation, and Embracing Economic Change’
Thursday, November 19, 2020 – 11:30am/EST (Virtual)

[As Prepared for Delivery]

Good morning!

Thank you, Kelly, for that kind introduction!

I appreciate your leadership in bringing together stakeholders from across all sectors to create a foundation for prosperity in the tri-state region.

I thank you, the Alliance’s Executive Board, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for hosting us and for inviting me to address the Summit today.

To those of you on-line representing the mega-region’s economic development, workforce, higher ed, local government, and private sectors, I thank you for your participation and for your focus on collaboration to respond to change and create economic opportunity in your dynamic region.

At EDA, we frequently highlight the importance of coordinated, collaborative, regionally-focused economic development.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s a necessary prerequisite to achieving lasting, impactful economic development outcomes.

We are proud to have invested to help support the Alliance’s critical work.

I consider hearing this morning from the Mayors of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary on their shared vision for the future of this region to be a great return on EDA’s investment!

As the America industrialist Henry Ford famously said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

By working together to identify challenges and opportunities and utilize the talents, skills, and assets of your region, you immeasurably increase your ability to pivot, overcome obstacles, and improve your global competitiveness.

Of course, today, our nation is faced with unprecedented challenges.

I’m sure that we can all agree that a Summit with the theme: ‘A New Decade: Disruption, Driving Innovation, and Embracing Economic Change’ is fitting for a calendar year 2020 economic development conference.

Today, I am pleased to share with you an overview of how EDA works and how we support locally-developed, impactful economic development strategies in the tri-state region and with other communities and regions across the nation.

I encourage you to stay tuned for today’s second panel for more on the Federal government’s role, including more on EDA from the Area Director of our Chicago Regional Office, Dennis Foldenauer.

I want to thank Dennis for jumping in today, Susan Brehm who serves as Regional Director was to have participated on the panel, but fell ill, and was not able to be with us today.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have following my remarks.

While many of you have worked closely with EDA, some of you may not be familiar with our role.

I’ll begin with a brief overview of our mission and work and then I will update you on some of the key activities currently underway.

As the only federal government agency with economic development as its sole mission, EDA, a bureau under the U.S. Department of Commerce, is available to help implement locally-driven strategies designed to improve your communities and create new jobs.

EDA provides strategic investments through competitive grants that foster job creation and attract private investment to support development in economically distressed areas of the United States.

We understand that some communities need help developing a plan and figuring out where to start their economic development efforts. That others need critical infrastructure supporting business expansion. And, that still others need help building ecosystems to translate innovation into jobs.

Therefore, EDA makes investments to catalyze locally driven planning, technical assistance, and infrastructure implementation strategies designed to spur economic development.

I’d like to emphasize that EDA does not go into communities advocating a Washington-knows-best approach.

Rather, we support impactful, well-thought out, locally devised strategies designed to make it easier for businesses to start and grow.

We are a force multiplier, so, our grants, for the most part, require local match.

We know that the tri-state region has been adversely affected as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and we want you to know that we are here for you.

As the folks working directly in your communities, we are committed to helping you do what you do best.

The fact is, seemingly overnight, the world changed.

The Coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the economies of communities and regions all across the nation.

Impactful, coordinated, regionally-focused economic strategies designed to aid response and recovery, stoke the innovation economy, and advance economic development planning and infrastructure development efforts are absolutely critical to getting back on our feet and ensuring our future competitiveness.

Critically, the CARES Act provided EDA with $1.5 billion to help our communities “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. And the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.”

To quickly move this funding into our communities, EDA made nearly $750 million in CARES Act Recovery Assistance investments in our standing, high-performing Economic Development Districts, American Indian Tribal Planning grantees, University Centers, and Revolving Loan Fund operators.

These critical EDA development partners are using these funds to update economic development resiliency plans, foster new recovery programs, coordinate regional recovery efforts, expand the availability of University-based resources, particularly business and entrepreneurial assistance, and recapitalize revolving loan funds to serve businesses in their service areas.

Today, we are evaluating competitive CARES Act grant proposals and making competitive awards to support a wide range of non-construction and construction activities, including:

  • Economic recovery planning and technical assistance strategies to address economic dislocations caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Preparing or updating economic resiliency plans to aid recovery and support industry diversification;
  • Capitalization or re-capitalization of Revolving Loan Funds to enhance funding liquidity for hard hit business enterprises;
  • Implementing a coronavirus specific innovation and entrepreneurship challenge; and
  • Constructing public works and facilities that will support economic recovery, including the deployment of broadband to support telehealth and remote learning for job skills, among numerous other high impact projects.

EDA will continue to make CARES Act awards to eligible entities until available funds are exhausted.

Of course, disasters - natural, manmade, industrial, and infectious - are constantly emerging around the world, sometimes striking the same communities already reeling from a prior crisis.

That’s why, at EDA, one of our investments priorities is to encourage our grantees to incorporate resiliency and adaptability into the strategic planning process.

This can help mitigate this “layering” effect, giving your community the tools to prepare for and recover from disasters in their many forms.

Economic resiliency can be defined as an area’s ability to withstand, prevent, or quickly recover from major disruptions – or shocks – to its underlying economic base.

Another way of looking at resilience is the ability not only to bounce back but also to “bounce forward” - to recover, and at the same time to enhance the capacities of the community or organization to better withstand future stresses.

Resilience is more than just prepping for disasters.

While building resilience to natural disasters, including pandemics, may be a good way for regions to begin thinking about resilience, EDA wants you to embrace the concept more broadly:

  • In addition to these disasters are you also focusing in industrial diversification?
  • Are you prepared for disruptions that include economic downturns or the loss of a major industry?
  • Are you prepared for changes in your workforce?

Additional disasters can disrupt the path a community is taking towards building back a thriving, resilient economy.

As another mitigation for this I would like to turn next to the topic of innovation and entrepreneurship.

In your region, you understand that innovation is the backbone of our economy and that all citizens should be empowered to pursue the dream of entrepreneurship and be enabled to carve their own paths to prosperity.

At EDA, our Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or OIE, is committed to furthering tech-based economic development initiatives that accelerate high quality job growth, create more economic opportunities, and support national economic growth by fostering the next generation of industry leading companies.

EDA’s Build to Scale Program, which is administered by OIE, supports regional economic growth through three separate competitions:

  • The Venture Challenge, formerly known as the “i6 Challenge,” supports entrepreneurship and accelerates company growth in communities, regions, or combinations of regions by knitting together the innovation ecosystem across a region connecting critical economic development actors and enabling the commercialization of technology and new industry growth.
  • The Capital Challenge, formerly known as “Seed Fund Support,” helps to increase access to capital in communities where risk capital is in short supply.
  • And, most recently starting in FY20 the Industry Challenge, which made $4 million available to support entrepreneurship and accelerate company growth within the Blue Economy. We anticipate future industry challenges across a range of sectors.

We are pleased to count Governors State University, mHUB, and the Clean Energy Trust in Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville among our 2020 cohort of Build to Scale program grantees.

Critically, EDA was provided $25 million under the CARES Act to enable organizations across the country to address the economic, health, and safety risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic through entrepreneurship and innovation.

Today, EDA is accepting applications under our Scaling Pandemic Resilience Through Innovation and Technology – or SPRINT – Challenge.

With this challenge, we will tap into American ingenuity, creativity, and innovation to find unique solutions to the unprecedented challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Eligibility is open to cities, counties, states, other political subdivisions of states, and Indian Tribes; public or private nonprofits; institutions of higher education; and EDA-Economic Development Districts.

Individual grants will be awarded up to $500,000 over a 12-month period of performance or up to $750,000 over an 18-month period of performance.

Project focuses may include, but are not limited to:

  • Scaling innovative biotechnology, health security, and supply chain technologies and solutions to market;
  • Increasing regional, national, and government connectivity across innovation clusters to support commercialization and entrepreneurship;
  • Developing new and unique investment capital models to address the financial needs of entrepreneurs; or
  • Developing and scaling innovative entrepreneurship support models to address the virtual and remote work environment of the pandemic.

I encourage you to get your proposals in: the application period ends at midnight on December 3.

Another key focus for EDA this year is administering $587 million appropriated to us by Congress to help communities respond to natural disasters – including Hurricanes, Typhoons, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and floods – that occurred in calendar year 2018 and 2019.

In Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, EDA received a total of $1.2 billion in supplemental disaster appropriations from Congress to help regions recover from economic harm and distress resulting from natural disasters occurring in 2017 through 2019.

With these funds, communities and regions hit hard by major disasters in the United States are rebuilding stronger, more resilient economies and EDA is pleased to help them achieve their goals through the supplemental appropriations.

There are no application deadlines and we are accepting proposals on a rolling basis until all funds are awarded.

In addition, to help communities respond to the economic impact of the closure of nuclear power plants, EDA currently has $13.5 million in funding available to support Nuclear Closure – or NCC – Communities.

EDA has a strong history of working with communities facing nuclear power plant closures as well as other communities facing structural economic adjustments, including those impacted by contractions in coal-based economies or Defense-related base realignment and closure activities.

The $13.5 million is targeted for regions that have been impacted, or can reasonably demonstrate that they will be impacted, by a nuclear plant closure or closures.

To be eligible for this funding, a project must meet the NCC Special Need eligibility criterion and may be used to make awards for any activity eligible for award under our Economic Adjustment Assistance program, including but not limited to early-stage strategic planning activities, construction investments, and economic diversification initiatives.

Further, EDA recognizes that many of the communities facing this challenge will need additional support in envisioning a future which will likely be vastly different from their past and current experiences.

As such, EDA has partnered with Smart Growth America, The Nuclear Decommissioning Collaborative, the Center for Creative Land Recycling and the National Association of Development Organizations to provide additional technical assistance resources for NCC’s.

This additional technical assistance will help communities leverage other existing assets, use data to lead their decision making and explore economic development opportunities which support regional clusters and competitiveness.

To help our grantees and others plug into the vast federal and other resources available to them, in 2016, EDA established an Economic Development Integration team, with a primary focus on facilitating access to economic development resources by:

  • Facilitating collaboration between multiple federal stakeholders, and
  • Reducing the administrative requirements for communities.

This role as an integrator of Federal economic development resources allows us to help customers – whether EDA grantees or other partners – leverage the Federal assets that our communities and regions need to produce impactful economic development projects.

This function can be extremely useful to you as you address challenges associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, natural disasters, and nuclear plant closures.

Before I close, I’d like to note EDA’s efforts to promote Opportunity Zones as key investment-ready locations.

Our mission fits hand in glove with the goal of the Opportunity Zones initiative, which is also focused on driving transformative private investment into distressed communities.

In fact, since FY 2018, EDA invested more than $798 million in 521 projects in or near Opportunity Zones across the U.S., including in many of your states.

We want economic developers to think of Opportunity Zone investment as a new tool in their toolbox that can work to not only enhance ROI, but also encourage the public/private partnerships needed to drive private investment to distressed areas – adding a social value to investing.

Among other actions, including making Opportunity Zones an investment priority, EDA published an update to our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy - or CEDS - Content Guidelines to encourage investment in Opportunity Zones.

Critically, today, governors, mayors, and other community leaders are including Opportunity Zones in their economic development strategies and we encourage states to offer your own Opportunity Zone tax incentive packages to compliment the federal Opportunity Zone tax incentives.

I encourage you to reach out to EDA’s Economic Development Representative in your state or our Chicago Regional Office for more information.”

To conclude, the work you all do together is meaningful and important to millions of people.

By being persistent, open, inclusive, and willing to look beyond your own work domains to achieve what is needed for this region, you are laying the foundation for long-term growth and competitiveness that lives up to the promise of the talents, skills and abilities of the people who live and work here.

Thank you for your time, your efforts, and your dedication to success.

I commend you for your efforts!

I encourage you to visit EDA.gov and also to participate in the Summit’s next panel, which I mentioned will include Dennis Foldenauer, EDA’s very talented and knowledgeable Chicago Regional Office Area Director, for more on EDA priorities and programs.

I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have!

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