The Greater Akron Chamber in Ohio is hopeful it can still capitalize on the work it and other regional economic developers did last year when they pursued federal funding for a polymer cluster.
Chamber President Steve Millard said there's new federal money available, along with federal funds given to the state for economic development — and he plans to go after both.
"Now there's money [provided to states] from the federal government … and I think we see an opportunity," Millard said. "COVID has changed supply-chain thinking — and because of that, Ohio is very well-positioned to be the recipient of a lot of investment over the next decade."
Millard and the Akron Chamber spearheaded an effort in the spring of 2022 to pursue $17 million in federal funding that would have, among other things, helped to build a new polymer research and development center in the region to serve the industry, the University of Akron, and both Case Western Reserve and Kent State universities.
Ultimately, that bid was not successful, but the regional grant application made it to the final round of 60, from an initial national pool of 529 applications.
Since then, the group has continued to work together and remains focused on getting support for what Millard said is an important industry cluster led by Ohio, and one that is also an important factor in the U.S. regaining control over supply chains that feed into a wide variety of industries.
Millard said the group is now working on a two-pronged effort aimed at gaining both state and federal funding. He's been heartened by Gov. Mike DeWine's s budget plans and said he's optimistic some of those funds can go toward polymers.
"When he released his operating budget, there were a lot of interesting things for the state, and one of them was $150 million for the [Ohio] Department of Development to pursue Innovation Hubs in our less significant cities — not Cincinnati, Cleveland or Columbus, basically," Millard said.
Millard said he expects the DOD to ask for submissions from around the state soon, and Akron will be ready.
"We are hoping to put our ideas together on how Greater Akron can drive innovation in the area of polymers — and not just innovation, but also workforce development and research that can turn into opportunities for not just Akron but the entire state," he said.
The state hasn't put out a request for proposals or any rules around submissions, but Millard said he's staying in touch with the governor's office and others in Columbus and will be ready to move when things become more formalized. He and others are also lobbying legislators to approve that portion of the governor's proposed budget, he said.
They're also lobbying at the federal level, where Millard said much of the money linked to the $280 billion federal CHIPS and Science Act has yet to be committed to specific projects. He sees opportunity in some of the announced federal plans for that money generally.
"One of the major items in there is something called technology hubs. In every Economic Development Administration district, there are resources to do at least three technology hubs," Millard said. "Our district includes six Midwestern states, and the regulations say they can't put more than one hub in each state … so we plan to compete for a polymer hub."
While it's no 2-foot putt, Millard figures Akron's got as good a chance now as it had a year ago, if not better. There's more money available now, thanks to some federal measures that have been put in place since then, and the need to get America's supply chains more secure has not waned.
Polymers have certainly not become less important he said.
"Polymers are ubiquitous," Millard said. "They're 70 percent of every airplane … the batteries for electric vehicles, 50 percent of those are polymers."
Millard said he thinks Akron and Northeast Ohio are well-prepared to compete for funding, thanks largely to their cooperative and collaborative efforts last year.
"That was a warm-up," Millard said. "We didn't get that money, but it was an opportunity to develop our ideas, our partnerships and the people we need to work with."