Despite months of vying for tens of millions of dollars in federal funding, the University of Alabama will not receive an award from the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, the government announced last week.

For the uninitiated, the Challenge set aside $1 billion in money from the American Rescue Plan to fund transformational economic development projects across the United States.

The money is being distributed by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration, who began taking applications for the program earlier this year with the promise of awarding $25 - 60 million to winning concepts.

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529 organizations, universities and collectives applied for the funding, and in the spring, the EDA named 60 finalists from that pool. The University of Alabama was among them, and the only applicant from the Yellowhammer State to advance to the final round.

As the Thread reported last month, the University proposed an initiative called Driving Regional Innovation through Vehicle Electrification -- DRIVE, for short.

Its vision was defined as creating a "dynamic center of sustainable job creation, innovation and competitiveness in Wider West Alabama that will position the region to lead the state and the nation into the future of mobility."

UA's pitch said DRIVE would create thousands of jobs and jumpstart the development of the state's vehicle electrification industry in West Alabama and across the Black Belt region. At the center of it all is the proposed Tuscaloosa Innovation District, a still-secretive $1.5 billion concept that could transform the area.

Ultimately, though, the University was not selected to receive any funding from the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, although the EDA said in a press release that all 60 finalist had received hundreds of thousands of dollars to advance their ideas. The EDA also said it will support the five dozen finalists "with the creation of a Community of Practice that will provide technical support, foster connectedness with peer regions, and build capacity."

What this means for the future of the DRIVE initiative and the Tuscaloosa Innovation District is yet to be seen.

Dr. Russell J. Mumper, the University's vice president for research and economic development, said he was proud the two concepts made it as far as they did and that both are still on the table, although his team will have to find new ways to fund their implementation.

“We were honored to be the only applicant in Alabama selected as a finalist for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge, and that process helped improve our vision," Mumper said. "The DRIVE initiative and Tuscaloosa Innovation District are really compelling and important to our desires to encourage economic development in our state, improve the quality of life and enhance the University’s mission to education and train tomorrow’s workforce. We will continue discussions around both initiatives and explore various forms and sources of potential funding support to continue our momentum.”

Stay connected to the Thread for updates on both concepts as they become available.

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