August 14, 2023

Two Years In: Building on Achievement, Focused on the Future

It’s been two years since I was sworn in on August 13, 2021, as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. I am as honored today to serve in this role as I was on Day 1. I am proud of the notable achievements of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) in helping our country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, build strong regional economies, and spur the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.

Quote from Alejandra Y. Castillo

The hard work that our team of dedicated public servants contributes daily and the innovative programing that we have implemented together to support local needs has undeniably helped to see our great nation through the pandemic and one of the worst economic downturns the world has ever experienced – all while building a foundation for future prosperity.

I am very proud that during my tenure ‘Equity’ has been designated as EDA’s top investment priority. Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. But for too many, the American Dream remains out of reach. With ‘Equity’ as our guide, the many communities that have been historically left out of the equation for EDA funding are now able to fully participate.

This focus on equity was critical as we worked to impactfully allocate $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding into American communities and regions across six programs, including through the groundbreaking, place-based $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC) and $500 million Good Jobs Challenge (GJC). The BBBRC provides transformational investments to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country, all while embracing equitable economic growth, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. global competitiveness. The $500 million GJC is making once-in-a-generation investment in workforce development as key to accelerating local economic growth and rebuilding regional economies resilient to future challenges, while providing good job opportunities for American workers to achieve economic mobility and security.

Our American Rescue Plan programs were truly an investment in ourselves as a nation. Every state and territory received funding and support to ensure that they have a shot at rebuilding and supercharging their economies.

In total, EDA’s American Rescue Plan investments, which amount to the largest local economic development initiative that the Department of Commerce has ever made, include 780 awards across 433 unique counties. This specific investment from the American Rescue Plan means 220,000 jobs will be created through nearly 800 projects and over $20 billion in private investment in local communities. On paper, the numbers look huge and impressive, but are ultimately hard to understand as having a direct impact at home. In my two years thus far at EDA, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that our impact is felt not in line items on investment reports, but in the daily lives of the Americans we serve.

In addition to our American Recue Plan programs, EDA invested to support our innovators and entrepreneurs and to help build a robust STEM workforce through our Build to Scale program and STEM Talent Challenge. Both programs, and others like them from our Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, are helping create the workforce and industries of tomorrow in communities across America today.

Investments made through our traditional Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance programs and Planning program are helping communities boost their capacity to support business growth through improved infrastructure and strong, regionally focused economic development planning.

Our University Center, Local Technical Assistance, Research and National Technical Assistance, and Trade Adjustment Assistance programs are ensuring that communities and businesses have the resources and tools they need to prosper.

Importantly, we have also delivered critical supplemental funding to communities impacted by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019 to help them build back stronger and we are today building on our proud history of serving these communities with funding through our 2023 Disaster Supplemental, which covers communities impacted by Presidentially-declared major natural disasters in calendar years 2021 and 2022.

While we rightly celebrate these achievements, I wake every morning with a clear eye to the future. A future that is ours to harness. A future that must include a stronger, more focused EDA. An EDA best positioned to help our communities and regions equitably support the growth of the next generation of business, industry, and workforce.

The CHIPS and Science Act gives us an opportunity to build on the success of our transformative, place-based programs. This once-in-a-generation investment in America’s global competitiveness will supercharge American manufacturing and innovation.

One component of the CHIPS Act is the new Tech Hubs Program, which is being led by EDA.

The Tech Hubs Program is an investment in our economic and national security future. We are laying the groundwork for U.S. global leadership in critical technologies for decades to come. This program will invest directly in burgeoning, high-potential U.S. regions and transform them into globally competitive innovation centers over time. Cultivating the tech hubs of tomorrow will not only create jobs and support industries of the future, but also strengthen long-term U.S. national and economic security – pillars of the Biden Administration’s “Investing in America” initiative.

Tech Hubs will help expand innovation beyond a few concentrated cities and perhaps into a community near you. And every Tech Hub built is so much more than just tech industries: it facilitates the growth in the region that will support more small businesses, restaurants, roads, and everything needed to make economies run.

The CHIPS and Science Act is also funding EDA’s $200 million Recompete Pilot Program, allowing us to build on our nearly 60-year history of supporting our country’s most distressed communities. Recompete will help communities with high prime age employment gaps (25-54 years of age)—communities that make up some of the most economically distressed areas of the country—so they can actively grow and chart a new path to prosperity in the modern economy.

People want and deserve to be able to work in the communities where they live, and these locally-driven programs will help them do just that.

President Biden’s Investing in America agenda – including historic legislation such as the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, CHIPS and Science Act, and Inflation Reduction Act – is mobilizing historic levels of private sector investments across the United States, bringing manufacturing back to America after decades of offshoring, and creating new, good-paying jobs, including union jobs and jobs that don’t require a college degree.

But we are just getting started. There’s so much more to be done to advance President Biden’s focus on bottom-up, middle-out growth. And we’re proud to be a critical part of that work at EDA.

We are working to improve the operation of our bureau to deliver stronger results, including improved data tracking, targeted capacity building, and increased stakeholder engagement. We continuously strive to better partner with communities as they tackle the biggest challenges of our time, including climate change, automation, global competitiveness, and broadband access, among others.

One other critical way we are working to position EDA for the future is by working with our colleagues on Capitol Hill to get EDA reauthorized.

It has been 19 years since EDA was last authorized by Congress.

Reauthorization is vitally important to provide EDA the tools to meet the needs of communities and strengthen its ability to respond to new economic development challenges. Simply put EDA must evolve. We need to modernize to provide the services that communities across the nation need to build contemporary, resilient and thriving economies.

We will work unwaveringly to achieve a reauthorization in this Congress, because we know that communities rely on EDA programming, need to know that the institution is resilient, and that we are operating with the tools and flexibilities we need to serve our customers, the American people.

I am extremely proud to serve the Biden Administration under Secretary Raimondo’s leadership as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. As I move into my third year at the helm of EDA, I am excited for the future, thankful for our EDA Team of dedicated professionals , appreciative of our many economic development partners, and grateful to our grantees and potential grantees for their focus in spurring economic opportunity in their communities.