Rhode Island leaders see larger prizes for the manufacturing sector on the horizon after securing a $100,000 U.S. Commerce Department grant last month to plan an advanced industry design center.
When the plans are completed next year, state officials intend to apply for up to $25 million in a second round of grants from the same source to build the design center.
And larger still is a $70 million U.S. Defense Department grant that, although shared with seven other states, would create a cybersecurity center at the University of Rhode Island as part of a new Digital Manufacturing & Design Institute.
Combined, the two initiatives, if they come to pass, would help develop a regional advanced-manufacturing cluster with potential for spinoffs and provide a range of services for existing manufacturers.
“We have not written off manufacturing,” said Marcel A. Valois, executive director of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, which is leading the state’s participation in both grant efforts. “We think it has tremendous growth potential, but it is going to look different than it has.”
As Obama administration officials had hoped, this series of federal manufacturing grants has spurred states across the country into a flurry of study and strategy sessions on how to take advantage of them.
Planning began here with Manufacturing 2,500, a collaboration between the EDC, Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, Rhode Island Manufacturers Extension Service and Rhode Island Manufacturing Association, to compile information on exactly what manufacturing resources exist in the state.
The group has been systematically surveying Rhode Island manufacturing companies, starting with the largest and moving down to those with only a handful of workers.
The $100,000 Commerce Department grant, matched by $25,000 from the EDC and $25,000 from The Rhode Island Foundation, will build on that effort and plan a manufacturing design center based on the expertise developed by the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Valois said the first step would be to release a request for proposals in the next two to three weeks for a consultant to lead the planning process.