Editorial: Latest tech designation welcome but no guarantee of funding

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We were excited to learn this week that the U.S. Department of Commerce has designated Indiana a biotechnology hub, although admittedly disappointed that the decision essentially just makes Indiana a sort of finalist for federal funding.

In all, the Commerce Department named 31 federal hubs across the nation representing different types of technology. The designation makes each eligible to compete for up to $70 million in federal funding to implement its programs.

But federal officials said only five to 10 of those 31 “tech hub designees” will actually be awarded grants ranging from $40 million to $70 million. The winners are expected to be announced by the end of the year.

Indiana’s winning application was submitted by Heartland BioWorks—a consortium of Hoosier entities that includes colleges and universities, industry groups and some of the state’s largest employers. And the biologics manufacturing hub will be in central Indiana.

Of course, our hope is that the Indiana consortium lands the full $70 million for biotech research and work. But if that doesn’t happen—and more designated hubs will be turned down than will win funding—we’d like to see state and local governments, universities, private industry and more lean into the designation and fund the projects that catapult Indiana’s life sciences industry even further.

The designation is already the result of Indiana’s leadership in the life sciences sector. The state leads the nation in pharmaceutical exports and has the second-highest concentration of life sciences jobs in the United States. It is the only state in the nation to manufacture all three COVID-19 vaccinations.

We are optimistic that those facts—and others—will lead to federal funding.

The White House has said the hubs—created by a federal law co-authored by Indiana Sen. Todd Young—are designed to help communities across the country become centers of innovation. They’re meant to ensure the U.S. is globally competitive in areas that are key to national security.

Melina Kennedy, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, told IBJ’s John Russell the hub designation shows that the state is a key player in biotechnology and life sciences manufacturing.

“Indiana, in the heartland, is really a place the whole country can lean on to not only discover but make advances in medicine and biotechnology that can be beneficial for the whole country,” she said.

In all, the state has nabbed three tech hub designations since the CHIPS Act was passed last year.

A coalition including Indiana, Illinois and Michigan was one of seven selected by the Biden administration for $1 billion in grant funding for the Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen, which consists of more than 70 Midwestern public and private organizations.

Last month, Indiana was one of eight states selected by the U.S. Department of Defense for a hub focused on supporting domestic production of microelectronics, semiconductor manufacturing and other advanced technologies.

The announcements are encouraging. We would like to see Indiana continue to play a crucial role in areas and industries that are key to the country’s vitality, and the hubs are great next steps.•

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