St. Louis region lands $25 million federal grant to bolster advanced manufacturing
Updated at 2:15 p.m. Sept. 2 with community leaders’ reaction
One of the next major industries in St. Louis could be advanced manufacturing.
The region won a $25 million federal Build Back Better Challenge Grant on Friday to develop that sector locally. It also comes with about $16 million in local matching funds.
This includes $7 million to the new Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Center in north St. Louis, which also landed a $5 million grant and partnership with Boeing last week.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones noted the significance of these investments, especially as a lifelong resident of north St. Louis.
“I can’t emphasize how transformational these kinds of investments and opportunities will be for our young people, our cities, working families and our neighborhoods,” she said.
Leaders expect the center, which will be in the Vandeventer neighborhood, will serve as a hub for the region’s efforts. Other funding will go to organizations working to build a diverse workforce and foster innovation and entrepreneurship by people of color and women.
This includes community colleges across the bi-state area with advanced manufacturing training programs and to organizations like WEPOWER and Rung for Women.
“We’re excited about what this opportunity will do for women, especially women of color, who are interested in moving up the rungs of the economic opportunity ladder,” said Leslie Gill, president of Rung for Women, which will receive $1 million from this grant.
Gill explained that her organization, which helps women make more money and build stable careers, is already involved with the advanced manufacturing center and sees the industry growing rapidly.
“Advanced manufacturing careers are pretty much everywhere,” she said. “You see them at companies like MiTek, who are making small items for all sorts of industries.”
St. Louis Community College Chancellor Jeff Pittman said the school will get $3 million for its advanced manufacturing tech training center from the grant.
“This is so welcome, exciting and needed news,” he said. “We’re going to be able to do a lot more than we initially thought with that project.”
Pittman expects the community college will break ground on this center in April at its Florissant Valley location. The new offerings for advanced manufacturing both at St. Louis Community College and Southwestern Illinois College, another recipient of this grant, will get their students into higher-wage, sustainable jobs quickly, he added.
“The advantage these students have going through community college programs whether here or in Illinois, is they’re leaving with for the most part no debt,” Pittman said.
Another key part of this funding opportunity for St. Louis was ensuring the investments tied to it go to parts of the community that have been overlooked in the past.
St. Louis Development Corporation Executive Director Neal Richardson noted the grant hits the core parts of the city’s economic justice action plan, which strives for workforce development, inclusive development and wealth building.
“The neighborhoods that we are investing into that have been historically disinvested and marginalized, we are prioritizing and highlighting and elevating those areas for these types of opportunities,” he said.
Richardson added his agency would ensure current residents won't be displaced and will ultimately benefit from these investments.
It’s a sentiment President Joe Biden reflected when announcing the grant winners across the country Friday morning.
“Together these projects are going to uplift underserved communities and include them as key parts of America’s economic recovery for the 21st century,” he said.
Other community organizations receiving funding noted how the grant process prioritized historically overlooked communities.
“As a region we had to propose an equity framework. It’s cool to see those signs of change both at the federal and regional level,” said Yoni Blumberg, vice president of community wealth building at WEPOWER.
Blumberg also emphasized how this grant supports programs beyond workforce training for local entrepreneurs.
“Fundamentally wealth is generated by ownership,” he said.
The federal grant is flexible enough that WEPOWER can use it to continue some of its broader missions to grow Black- and Latino-owned companies in the region, Blumberg added.
“We’re at a critical junction as a region,” he said. “We have a big chance to get it right.”
Advanced manufacturing has become a third pillar of the business opportunity that leaders want to develop in the region. Greater St. Louis Inc. CEO Jason Hall emphasized this point at the Boeing announcement last week.
“Just as we’ve done in geospatial, as we’ve done in agtech, we are doing in manufacturing,” he said. “We are doubling down to be the place where the future of manufacturing is created. If you want to be a part of it, you better come and invest in St. Louis.”
Hall’s organization wrote the main Build Back Better proposal. He said it reflected the power of the St. Louis region coalescing around a clear vision.
“One voice with one plan led to a big win for St. Louis,” he said.
Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.