URI Research Foundation awarded Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant, will lead regional coalition to grow ‘blue economy’

$500K phase one planning grant makes Rhode Island eligible for up to $100M in challenge next phase

KINGSTON, R.I. – Dec. 13, 2021 – The University of Rhode Island Research Foundation, in conjunction with Rhode Island Commerce and a regional team focused on the growing blue economy, has successfully competed against hundreds of regional teams across the country to be selected by the U.S. Economic Development Administration as a finalist in the nation-wide Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced the finalists for the $1 billion “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” that aims to boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild American communities. The Build Back Better Regional Challenge provides transformative investments – up to $100 million per grantee – to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country, all while embracing economic equity, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. competitiveness globally.

The URI Research Foundation’s proposal focuses on Rhode Island’s natural advantages and the density of cross-sector excellence to advance a variety of new “blue” technology capabilities while addressing historically excluded populations and proposing strategies to address economic disparities across the state. Rhode Island is now one of 60 finalist applications out of 529 total that were submitted to receive a phase one planning grant of $500,000 to develop and support three to eight distinct and meaningful projects to grow the cluster.

With phase one funding, the URI Research Foundation will work with RI Commerce and the coalition of government, academic, equity and industry partners to develop the infrastructure needed to meet the goals of the coalition. The Research Foundation will be eligible to apply for phase two funding in March 2022, which could provide up to $100 million in funding to implement the initiative.

“This is an exciting time for URI,” said University of Rhode Island President Marc Parlange. “We have the resources to support technology and growth while building a robust pipeline of jobs. We have spent years building a network of partners, serving as a bridge between industry and government through vital and impactful translational research. This grant will not only accelerate the work we are currently doing but it will position URI as a powerful engine, fueling the blue economy in the state and the region.”

As the state’s public research university, URI plays a key role in supporting the state’s economy and is a recognized global leader in the areas of defense, offshore energy, composites, ocean engineering, and aquaculture. Its Graduate School of Oceanography is also ranked as one of the top five oceanographic institutions in the world.

“I’m proud that both applications that Rhode Island submitted to the Federal Economic Development Administration have been named as finalists in the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better regional challenge,” said Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee. “If selected, these proposals in the blue economy and biosciences will strengthen our competitiveness in these two critical industries and will help create high quality, well-paying jobs for our state. I thank the team of partners for their work crafting this strong proposal and our congressional delegation for their strong advocacy on behalf of the Ocean State.”

“I helped include $1 billion for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge in the American Rescue Plan Act to make investments in promising programs like the URI Research Foundation’s Blue Economy Technology Cluster,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I commend URI and its economic development partners for putting together a successful phase one application.

“We need to make our economy more resilient,” said Reed. “The Rhode Island Blue Economy Technology Cluster will bring more ‘blue’ jobs and businesses to the Ocean State and lead to long-term, sustainable growth across Rhode Island. I hope today’s federal funding leads to a multimillion-dollar phase two award.”

“We can build Rhode Island’s economy back better by playing to our advantages, like the growing ocean economy,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a longtime booster of Rhode Island’s blue economy. “This federal award will support the development of a strategic plan for expanding the Ocean State’s blue economy and creating well-paying jobs. I wish the University of Rhode Island, Commerce RI, and their partners continued success in the next round of the challenge.”

URI has a proven track record of taking on projects that support technology-based investments, increase the number of jobs and wages across the state and the region, and provide pathways to higher pay and business ownership for populations that have been historically excluded. The URI Research Foundation alongside RI Commerce, and other key partners will lead the coalition of industry, government, non-profit and academic organizations to combine their expertise and effort to fundamentally advance new technology development and additional capabilities for use across sectors of the state’s economy.

“The University of Rhode Island is leading the way in groundbreaking research related to the blue economy. When we talk about Building Back Better, we’re talking about climate action, clean energy, and initiatives that support sustainable seafood supply chains. The University of Rhode Island is tackling all of these issues, and I am so proud that such incredible work is being done right here in Rhode Island’s Second Congressional District,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “This $500,000 grant is going to help us put Rhode Island on the map as the engine of blue technology development around the world.”

“The RI Blue Economy Technology Cluster will establish Rhode Island and Southern New England as a premier destination for the ports and shipping, defense, marine trades, ocean-based renewables, aquaculture and fisheries, and tourism and recreation industries,” said Congressman David Cicilline. “We have the potential to become a leader in the blue economy and this Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant will enable URI and its partners to harness all we have to offer and realize this vision.” 

Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor and the Rhode Island Governor’s office are important conveners of the partners in the project: “RI Commerce is pleased to be a lead partner in this effort to strengthen and grow our blue economy,” said Secretary Pryor. “The Governor’s RI 2030 plan and RI Innovates 2.0 conclude that the blue economy can be a key economic driver for the state, creating high quality, well-paying jobs. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with URI and other key stakeholders on this important initiative.”

The URI Research Foundation, also known as URI Ventures, oversees market analysis, commercialization of protected intellectual property, and the development of business relationships with corporate and government partners for the University of Rhode Island. These commercialization activities advance Rhode Island’s economy, while improving society and human lives.