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Spotlight: EDA’s University Center Economic Development Program

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University Center Locations Map

EDA's University Center Economic Development Program makes the vast resources of universities available to the economic development community. The University Center Program allows institutions of higher education to establish and operate University Centers (UCs) specifically focused on helping to build regional economic ecosystems that support innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship.

The UCs, which EDA considers long-term partners in economic development, are required to devote the majority of their funding to respond to technical assistance requests originating from organizations located in the economically distressed portions of their service regions.

University Centers collaborate with other EDA partners by providing expertise and technical assistance to develop, implement, and support regional strategies that result in job creation, high-skilled regional talent pools, and business expansion in a region’s innovation clusters.

Expertise and technical assistance may address, for example, workforce training programs, applied research centers, technology commercialization, feasibility studies, market research, economic impact analysis training, and other technical assistance to help communities foster vibrant economic ecosystems.

Since FY 2004, EDA has administered the University Center program as a competitive multi-year program.

Contingent upon availability of appropriations, EDA holds University Center program competitions in two of its six regional offices on a rotating basis.

Under the most recent FY 2018 competition, EDA was allocated $7.4 million for the UC program and made awards to 20 colleges and universities in 13 states in communities served by EDA’s Austin and Denver Regional Offices.

These are five-year awards and funded incrementally on an annual basis. Activities to be conducted under these awards include:

  • Cultivating a culture of innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship in rural and underrepresented communities
  • Supporting regional commercialization efforts
  • Aiding the expansion of existing businesses and the creation of business start-ups
  • Promoting a favorable business environment to attract private capital investment and higher-skill, higher-wage jobs
  • Implementing a business counseling and proof-of-concept center for science/engineering start-ups
  • Providing technical support for STEM-based innovation clusters and enhancing the entrepreneurial resource network
  • Serving the growing autonomous systems innovation cluster in North Dakota by assisting with commercialization efforts
  • and developing a workforce for the industry sector through experiential learning
  • Providing resources to design, build and test prototype systems that power devices using renewable energy technologies
  • Assisting entrepreneurs and businesses with strategic planning efforts to identify and overcome technical challenges faced in new product and technology development.

Based on the grantee-reported data in FY16, FY17, and FY18, EDA’s University Centers have provided at least eight hours of technical assistance to more than 1,800 clients during those years. Technical assistance activities are primarily focused on client services, including business sector services; developing partnership strategies; and developing studies that help communities improve their capacity for economic development.

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Business and Technical Assistance

The next UC competition will be held in the Philadelphia and Chicago Regional Offices in FY 2021. Until then, EDA is focused on highlighting the impact of current University Centers in their service areas and working towards a more modern system of data collection that will yield more accurate reporting of activities, outputs, and outcomes. This will allow EDA to better capture the real impact of University Centers and tell a compelling story of how they are supporting their communities and the broader economic development ecosystem.

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