Southwestern Pa. awarded $63M to boost robotics and AI industries in region

Southwestern Pennsylvania has secured a $62.7 million federal grant that local officials hope will boost the region’s robotics and artificial intelligence industries and allow small businesses to take advantage of that growth.

The White House announced Thursday the newly formed Southwestern Pennsylvania New Economy Collaborative will receive its funding through the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The collaborative was one of just 21 funding recipients out of more than 500 applicants nationwide.

Winners received between $25 million and $65 million.

The region’s collaborative promises the funding will help to generate thousands of jobs and help small companies modernize using robotics and AI. Companies that stand to benefit the most include ones working in industries such as agriculture, construction, energy, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, said US Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton.

The collaborative said it also will invest in apprenticeship programs and programs to help students enter the robotics and AI fields.

US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the advancement of the robotics and artificial intelligence industries is critical to America’s global competitiveness and job creation in the Pittsburgh region.

“This funding will ensure these opportunities reach rural and coal-impacted communities while solidifying the US’s leadership in the industry,” Raimondo said in a statement.

Pittsburgh’s funding will be distributed over four years in an 11-county region that includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Pittsburgh’s robotics and artificial intelligence industries have become a key part of spurring the region’s growth in the tech sector. Earlier this year, Pittsburgh was ranked the fifth-best up-and-coming startup ecosystem in the US, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2022.

Casey said the $62.7 million in funding should help the region build on that momentum and expand the tech sector’s reach into rural communities, especially those in areas such as Greene, Lawrence and Indiana counties that were hit hard by the decline of the coal industry. He said the collaborative is projecting to create or retain 12,000 jobs and generate $335 million in direct regional GDP.

“When Southwestern Pennsylvania was knocked down, they didn’t wait for someone else to pick them back up. They reinvented themselves to become leaders in technology,” Casey said, adding that the federal funding will “allow workers and small and family-owned businesses to take advantage of the region’s robotics and AI industries to modernize their own businesses and keep them growing in a 21st-century economy.”

The collaborative’s grant application said it will be governed by a board that is co-chaired by Carnegie Mellon University President Dr. Farnam Jahanian and Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Stefani Pashman. The board will appoint a Regional Economic Competitiveness Officer to lead the collaborative.

The application said five projects would be funded through the collaborative, with Carnegie Mellon receiving funding to implement three of the projects. CMU will help to bring robotics and AI to small businesses across the region, as well as work with the private sector, workforce development groups and labor unions to create education programs to train workers in these tech fields.

US Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, said he thinks the collaborative can help to create more jobs in the robotics field and protect existing manufacturing jobs.

The Pittsburgh region had been shedding jobs in manufacturing for decades before the pandemic.

US Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said the funding is a smart investment. He said by helping to boost an already growing field, the region will create new jobs.

“Pittsburgh is already recognized as a world leader in robotics and autonomous vehicle technology, and the potential for growing our economy with a smart targeted investment like this is clear,” Doyle said.

Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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