Regional coalition of offshore wind industry projects is competing for up to $100 million in federal funding
A proposal for six projects that would support offshore wind power in New London and Bridgeport is one of 60 finalists for the U.S. Economic Development Administration's $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
The EDA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the finalists Monday.
The lead organization for the set of six projects, called the Offshore Wind Industry Cluster, is the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, or seCTer.
Each of the finalists is a coalition of partners, and the OWIC was among 60 finalists selected from a pool of 529 applicants, according to a news release from the EDA. Each finalist is getting about $500,000 to further develop the project and compete for Phase 2 of the challenge.
The second phase will award 20 to 30 coalitions between $25 million and $100 million each, with each coalition implementing between three and eight projects that support a certain sector. The deadline for this phase is March 15. The EDA said even if finalists don't get Phase 2 funding, the $500,000 will help them find new partners and funding sources.
SeCTer wrote in its application, "When combined with existing strengths in defense-based advanced manufacturing, available industrial land, nationally recognized equitable workforce development, and top research and higher education facilities, the OWIC will catalyze and diversify the region's economy to establish southern New England as the leading global center of Blue Economy."
The project would be centered in southeastern Connecticut, with a "spoke" in Bridgeport, and opportunities to collaborate with Rhode Island and Massachusetts in Phase 2.
The application noted that southeastern Connecticut "is heavily dependent on hospitality which was devastated by the pandemic," and that an average annual wage for hospitality in the region is $31,008 while an average manufacturing job pays $106,743. The goal of the proposal is to create programming "to move as many marginalized residents as possible from low wage jobs to manufacturing careers."
The proposal is for five coalition members to work on six projects.
The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology would host forums and survey offshore wind developers to identify gaps in the regional supply chain, information CCAT would use to encourage companies to expand operations to make additional parts.
The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments' project is to determine "feasible sites for the Thames River Offshore Epicenter, a collection of industrial sites along the shoreline and the Thames River." Phase 2 would involve requesting funds for environmental studies.
The third project is the Norwich Community Development Corporation's work on a second business park in the city.
The fourth project is for the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board to replicate its Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, developed to meet the workforce needs of Electric Boat and its suppliers for ramped up submarine production, as the Offshore Wind Pipeline Initiative.
The last two projects are from the University of Connecticut. One is a proposed 48,000-square-foot Blue Tech Research and Development Center at UConn Avery Point, and the other is to co-locate a business incubator within the R&D center.
This all comes amid the $235 million redevelopment of State Pier in New London, which seCTer said is expected to create 400 construction jobs and 80 to 120 post-construction jobs.
"The green economy is upon us, and we really need to do something about it, and I'm just excited for Connecticut to be a part of it," said seCTer Executive Director Paul Whitescarver, who started his role in October, just a few weeks before seCTer submitted its application. Whitescarver is a retired Navy captain and former commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.
He said some of the projects for Phase 1 are three years long while others are shorter.
"This is big news for eastern Connecticut's emerging wind energy manufacturing sector," Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a news release from seCTer. "Congress voted to invest in America's workforce and supply chain at a level we haven't seen in generations."
Courtney said the selection as a finalist reflects collaboration over the past few years on undersea logistics and investments in offshore wind capability, and that he "will continue to do all I can to support their application."
The Build Back Better Regional Challenge is part of a set of EDA programs that will distribute $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding.
Raimondo said in a news release that the challenge "aims to supercharge local economies and increase American competitiveness around the globe." Alejandra Y. Castillo, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, said coalitions include government, nonprofits, academia and others.
Castillo, who was in Connecticut less than two weeks ago for the Connecticut Economic Development Summit, said these projects "will help revitalize local economies and tackle our biggest challenges related to climate change, manufacturing, supply chains and more."
Finalists are spread across 45 states and Puerto Rico, and the OWIC is the only one of the four proposals submitted from Connecticut to become a finalist. The EDA noted that 12 finalists across the country are in coal communities.