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Missouri cities, universities vie for federal economic development program

Multiple Missouri cities, businesses, and universities have applied for help bouncing back from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic through a new federal program. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge, administered by the Economic Development Administration (EDA), will invest $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan to support economic recovery through new jobs and workforce development. 

The program will be administered in phases, with $500,000 in technical assistance funds to be awarded to 50-60 groups of applicants partnering with the region they seek to invest in through the first round. In the second phase, the EDA will award up to $100 million to 20-30 regional coalitions. 

By the time the first submission period closed last week, nine Missouri entities had applied to participate. 

“From rural communities to university towns, major metros, and everything in between, our applicants reflect the local economies that propel our nation forward. This shows the exceptional demand for investment across the country and the enthusiasm for President Biden’s American Rescue Plan,” Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo said. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Build Back Better Act will provide the resources to continue to do this much-needed work so that communities can recover, Americans can get back to work, and we can enhance U.S. competitiveness on the global stage.”

Kansas City applied for the funds to use on small-scale manufacturing operations to drive economic revitalization while Greater St. Louis Inc. is seeking to invest in an advanced manufacturing cluster. The East St. Louis Economic Investment Corp. also requested funds to boost economic opportunities in the area. 

The curators of the University of Missouri and its Rolla affiliate applied to invest in regional economic development and electric vehicles, respectively, while the University of Central Missouri hoped to finance an entrepreneurship and workforce development collaborative. 

A trio of Missouri corporations also threw their hats in the ring for the program: Mid-America Regional Council Community Services Corporation sought to invest in the biologics industry in Kansas City while Thank You Walt Disney Inc. planned to invest in the city’s digital media market. The Robotics Recycling Initiative applied to expand its operations in the Midwest.

Nearly 530 applicants from across the country applied for the challenge since applications for the initial phase opened in July. The second round of applications will open in March 2022. 

At least $100 million from the program will be earmarked for coal communities as part of a commitment to bolstering employees affected by the closure of plants with new workforce opportunities. 

The Biden administration’s first major legislative victory, the American Rescue Plan Act, included funding for everything from agriculture and Medicaid to health centers and education.