The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) today announced that public and private sector stakeholders in the Richmond-Petersburg region, working together as the Alliance for Building Better Medicine, will receive $52,942,702 as a winner of the national Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

As the marquee of the EDA’s American Rescue Plan, the Build Back Better Regional Challenge aims to boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild American communities by strengthening dynamic high-tech regional industry clusters across the country, while embracing economic equity, creating well-paying jobs, meeting priority national interests and enhancing U.S. competitiveness globally. The large federal grant will be matched by $13,339,919 of funding from private and public organizations, for a total investment of $77,792,402.

The Alliance for Building Better Medicine coalition from across the Richmond-Petersburg MSA works to scale up the region’s advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing and R&D cluster to address the nation’s pressing need for quality, affordable essential medicines. The coalition is one of only 21 coalitions to receive funding from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Coalition members will leverage the Build Back Better Regional Challenge funding for six construction and programmatic projects.

“The Build Back Better Regional Challenge award is a pivotal win for the region demonstrating what is possible when Central Virginia localities and private and public sector organizations lock arms and work together,” said Chandra Briggman, president, and CEO of Activation Capital, an innovation ecosystem development organization that led the formation of the Alliance for Building Better Medicine. “Thanks to these many stakeholders, the Richmond-Petersburg region has shown the nation that it is agile, mission-driven, and ready to scale to meet a timely and urgent need for the country. Funding from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge will  help the region create a secure supply of essential medicines for the U.S., re-shore manufacturing by tapping into new technologies, and reduce the cost and increase access to quality medicines for Americans. It will also help to reduce the environmental burden of pharmaceutical manufacturing through the use of green chemistry while creating high-wage jobs in historically underserved communities in our region.”

In 2020, through an initiative of VCU’s College of Engineering, the coalition of public and private sector partners was formed to design a regional strategy for advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing leveraging existing assets. The coalition reconvened in 2021 to fast-track development of an advanced pharmaceutical manufacturing cluster in central Virginia. The coalition was awarded seed funding from GO Virginia and others totaling $2.5 million. Members of the growing coalition quickly began developing opportunities for the emerging cluster to involve and impact the entire region and its many communities – urban and rural, students, entrepreneurs, small business owners, veterans, and low-income and minority populations disproportionately impacted by economic distress and the COVID-19 pandemic – with the goal of creating high-paying jobs and careers for individuals with a wide range of educational levels and experiences.

In 2021, the coalition won Phase 1 of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge and began to plan in detail the six projects now funded with the support of  Activation Capital, City of Petersburg, City of Richmond, Civica Inc., Community College Workforce Alliance, Greater Richmond Partnership, Medicines for All Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia’s Gateway Region, Virginia State University, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, GENEDGE, Brightpoint Community College, and Reynolds Community College.

“We thank the General Assembly and governor, GO Virginia and VEDP for strong and growing support for this emerging regional cluster. Senators Warner and Kaine and Congressman McEachin provided an enthusiastic voice to EDA in this process as well,” said Briggman.

The Alliance members will use the EDA funding opportunity to construct a Development/Scale-up Center to accelerate manufacturing innovation and the commercialization of lab discoveries. This first-of-its-kind facility will spur collaboration, invention, and investment by speeding bench discoveries to commercial scale. Funding will be used to develop new and joint degree and research programs between VCU and Virginia State University and industry as well as manufacturing technician training at Brightpoint Community College and laboratory technician training at Reynolds Community College, coordinated by the Community College Workforce Alliance. In addition, funds will be used to construct an Innovation Center with additional wet lab space in Richmond’s VA Bio+Tech Park to help existing organizations in the region grow. Support from the EDA will enable local and regional economic development organizations to accelerate development in the region of the supply chain needed to produce new research, sales, service, and manufacturing facilities, and new jobs in the Richmond-Petersburg region. Finally, EDA funds will also support improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure in Petersburg’s Poor Creek service area serving the growing manufacturing facilities there.

“As a deeply connected region, our coalition members will leverage funding by the Build Back Better Challenge to bring about transformational change by implementing a set of complementary projects designed to expand our region’s infrastructure, workforce, supply chain, R&D, and innovation capacity,” said Briggman. “Every action we take will be grounded in the region and its diverse assets and constituents. Together, we will create great jobs and build resilient and healthy communities while embracing equitable economic growth and enhancing U.S. global competitiveness.”

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