Could GJ become a government-designated tech innovation hub? | Business

Could Grand Junction’s future include serving as a rural hub for the development and manufacturing of technology such as semiconductors?

That was the topic of discussion in one of the Western Colorado Economic Summit breakout sessions Thursday. Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade Senior Business Development Manager Mike Landes, Energize Colorado Co-Founder and CEO Wendy Lea, and Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis served as speakers in the session, moderated by Daily Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton.

The session focused on the CHIPS and Science Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last August, and how it could impact Colorado and Grand Junction.

The CHIPS and Science Act provides roughly $280 billion to boost the domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors.

Grand Junction, INNOVATION HUB?

As part of the CHIPS and Science Act legislation, at least 20 cities across the country will be designated as regional innovation hubs, which would collectively receive about $11 billion. At least a third of those cities selected must be considered rural. Davis said this is a prime opportunity for Mesa County to take the next step as a hub for technology and manufacturing.

“Under the federal definition, we are rural… yet we have all the facilities, we have all the utilities, we have all of the workforce, CMU provides education, so we have all the things we need to actually facilitate an innovation hub,” Davis said. “I think Mesa County could be a perfect spot for a rural regional innovation hub.”

Davis said a local consortium has been formed to compile a list of Mesa County’s assets to be included in a regional innovation hub application. Two primary assets that have been identified are the region’s proximity to the Colorado River and the presence of Kurtis Minder, the co-founder and CEO of the cybersecurity company GroupSense.

“Doing what you guys have already done is non-trivial,” Lea told Davis. “You have to assess the assets from a resource standpoint, a workforce standpoint, a natural resource standpoint, technology business resource standpoint, because the money is catalytic and wants to really drive this. There’s a sense of urgency.”

Lea also said it benefits the region to have advanced technology companies such as CoorsTek and West Star Aviation.

“Those advanced technologies can be bundled (in your application),” Lea told Davis. “You don’t have to have an application per advanced technology. You can bundle them as long as the storyline is clear and as long as there’s evidence to support the storyline.”

FILE – Kurtis Minder, CEO and Co-founder of GroupSense, walks through campus at Colorado Mesa University in February 2022. MCKENZIE LANGE


“From our side, we think it’s great that this is national legislation that’s going to spread a lot of money out around the United States and shore up a lot of national security concerns,” Landes said of the state’s perspective on the CHIPS and Science Act. “We want as much of that money to come to Colorado as we can possibly get.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce put out a Notice of Funding Opportunity at the beginning of February tied to the CHIPS and Science Act. The federal government is in the process of coordinating with businesses that provided statements of interest.

“All of this is being done with a sense of urgency that says, ‘The problems that we are facing at the national security level are not things we can kick down the road. We need to address them immediately,’ ” Landes said.

Landes said the state has formed a task force of stakeholders made up of businesses in the state that are in the semiconductor industry, leading researchers from universities and local economic development organizations to discuss how to best pitch the state and its cities for substantial CHIPS and Science Act funds.

Landes said the state’s General Assembly has put together legislation that accomplishes a few things to bolster the state’s chances at a better share of CHIPS money and encourages businesses to apply for the funding.

One piece of legislation gives the state a cash fund of $5 million that can be deployed directly to communities. Another provides a $15 million tax credit to businesses that apply for the CHIPS and Science Act’s funding. A third piece of legislation creates “CHIP zones” that will provide tax credits to companies that are considering expansion.

“There are many, many states around the country that can throw a lot more money at this than Colorado can. We don’t have the same resources some other states do,” Landes said. “The true success in our ability to be competitive in this race is a combination of the creative attempts on the part of our government to be able to attract these companies, relationships with communities like Grand Junction that are interested in the expansion of their local capacity for something that can be involved in this industry, and the development of our incredible workforce.

“I think having this conversation at CMU, which has invested so much in creating the kind of technically focused students who emerge and are able to contribute to high-tech industries, is really important.”

Lea emphasized that Colorado should be considered a technology innovation hub, which should help its businesses and communities sell themselves for CHIPS and Science Act funds.

“Decades of work invested by the state, nonprofit entities, entrepreneurs building businesses, means Colorado is naturally entrepreneurial and naturally collaborative,” Lea said. “We have done work building our hub organically, which is very important. Now, we have this unique opportunity to bring home to our state catalytic capital that starts with a ‘B’: a billion.”

For the past year, Lea has served on a Department of Commerce council of 20 entrepreneurs from around the country. The group has worked on helping the federal government practically implement this policy.

Lea and Landes both said that, while Colorado has advantages like geography, strong communities and the institutional ability to meet the federal government’s standards, it also only has one chance in this CHIPS and Science Act window to land a true tech hub in the state.

“We likely only have one shot on goal,” Lea said.


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