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First Person: Q&A with Tech Hubs Director Eric Smith

Exploring opportunities for manufacturing growth through the Federal Tech Hubs Program with insights from director Eric Smith on collaboration and regional innovation.

Q2 2024
Area Development Magazine is fortunate to have an exclusive interview with Eric Smith, the director of the Federal Tech Hubs Program at the Economic Development Administration. Our conversation sheds light on the transformative potential of this program for the U.S. manufacturing landscape. As we explore the strategic initiatives designed to bolster regional economies through technological innovation, our readers—especially manufacturing executives—will find critical insights into how they can leverage these opportunities for growth and competitive advantage.

Area Development: What specific opportunities does the Federal Tech Hubs Program offer to manufacturing executives looking to innovate and expand?
Eric Smith: The program is explicitly designed to include the private sector in every consortium, meaning there’s a direct pathway for manufacturers to engage with cutting-edge technologies and markets. About a third of our consortium members are from the private sector, emphasizing the significant role industry plays in these hubs. By participating, manufacturers can access new technologies, collaborate on development, and integrate innovations into their processes, driving both regional and industrial growth.

Area Development: How does the Tech Hubs Program support regions in developing a competitive edge in manufacturing and technology?
Eric Smith: Each designated hub focuses on leveraging its unique regional assets to develop specific technology sectors—from autonomous systems to biomanufacturing. This targeted approach not only fosters specialized expertise but also builds robust supply chains that are regionally integrated. For manufacturers, this means improved supply chain resilience, access to specialized talent, and opportunities to lead in market segments critical to national security and economic competitiveness. By investing in these hubs, we’re positioning regions to attract further private and public investment, enhancing their stature as industry leaders globally.

Eric Smith is the Tech Hubs Program Director at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).
Area Development: What types of technology and industries do these hubs focus on?
Eric Smith: The designated hubs cover diverse areas such as autonomous systems, quantum technology, biomanufacturing, energy transition, and more. We're aiming to expand this portfolio in future iterations of the program, ensuring that each hub not only contributes to economic competitiveness but also aligns with national security interests.

Area Development: How can manufacturing executives gauge the program's impact on their long-term planning?
Eric Smith: Manufacturing executives should look at the program as an opportunity to engage with tech hubs that align with their technological focus and regional presence. By joining these consortia, they can influence and benefit from the hubs' growth trajectories. Our funding model and consortium structure are designed to facilitate substantial economic activity and investment, promising significant developments for participating businesses.

Area Development: What challenges has the program encountered, and how are you addressing them?
Eric Smith: Balancing the selection of hubs, given their diversity and potential, is challenging. We address this by ensuring all designated hubs receive benefits, even if they don't receive direct funding in a particular round. This holistic approach helps mitigate challenges and ensures all participants have the potential to realize growth.

Area Development: Looking ahead, what are your goals for these hubs in the next five to ten years?
Eric Smith: Our vision is to see these hubs become synonymous with their respective technologies, much like Silicon Valley is with tech innovation. We aim for these hubs to drive significant economic activity, creating high-quality jobs and attracting further investment, thus solidifying their status as centers of industry and innovation.

Area Development: Any final thoughts for our manufacturing executive readers?
Eric Smith: I encourage all manufacturing executives to explore potential engagements with the Tech Hubs. Whether you’re already involved or considering involvement, these hubs offer a platform for substantial growth and networking. As the program expands, the opportunities for transformative impact will only increase, making now an ideal time to get involved.

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