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Ted Townsend: Despite Fed grant miss, Memphis and 'Digital Delta' allies remain undeterred in pursuing Digital Delta initiative
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Ted Townsend

UPDATE 3 Sept. 2022: The White House announced yesterday 21 winners in its BBBRC competition. Allied sponsors of the Memphis proposal did not receive a grant. However, the Digital Delta Coalition is seeking funding via other channels. This morning, Greater Memphis Chamber Chief Economic Development Officer Ted Townsend responded to a VNC query about the fate of the initiative, saying "From the very beginning of this process, our coalition has committed to moving forward with the development of the Digital Delta regardless of federal funding, and that's what we intend to do. As one of 60 finalists for the funds, our coalition has already assembled more than 100 regional stakeholders, laid the groundwork for fast-track skills training, and created a dashboard with the University of Memphis to track and analyze talent development. We will continue working to accelerate this region's transformation into one of the most inclusive clusters of technology and research in the nation." Added 1408: University of Memphis Innovation and Research Director Cody Behles also wrote VNC this afternoon, saying, "We are digesting the news now before we decide next steps. The innovation community in Memphis came together wonderfully to put together a great proposal. The university will continue leading such proposals in the future and thanks all our partners - Epicenter, Startco, MAAG, and the Chamber." This story will be further updated, as warranted. Our original detailed story of last winter is below. -Editor

Originally published Feb. 11, 2022.

Memphis-area's 'Digital Delta' advocates face March 15 deadline

THE ADVOCATES of a plan to establish Metro Memphis as a regional innovation hub for applied technology applications in the "Digital Delta" are now facing a March 15 federal deadline to submit a final grant request that could eventually win at least $25MM in federal funding -- or nothing.

The Memphis coalition -- led by University of Memphis and Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce -- recently learned their Digital Delta proposal was among 60 nationwide chosen to receive planning grants of about $500K each, for final development of their regional plans.

The grants competition is known as the Build Back Better Regional Competition, and it is still underway within the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Among eight Tennessee-based coalitions that submitted proposals, the Digital Delta proposal from Memphis was the only proposal that survived Round 1 of the BBB RC competition.

VNC has not yet determined whether Memphis coalition organizers or the backers of the seven regional proposals that have already been eliminated will seek alternative sources of funding for the initiatives they described in their proposals, if no proposal ultimately wins federal funding this year.

Further information on all eight proposals appears later in this story.

Last October, after months of work, Digital Delta coalition members in the Memphis area submitted their required preliminary proposal for consideration in the Phase 1 qualifying round.

Their ideas were then compared with 528 other competing proposals that had originated in The Fifty States and five U.S. territories.

EDA says that after Phase 2 proposals are ranked, it plans to award funding to "20 to 30" of the estimated 60 finalists still standing, with individual grants ranging from $25MM to $100MM each.

News of the Digital Delta proposal's fate is likely to arrive from EDA in the April-June 2022 timeframe.

In the Digital Delta proposal, representatives of more than 50 coalition partners said their shared vision is centered on establishing in the Memphis metropolitan area "an economy of innovation driven by applied technologies that will accelerate the growth and development of targeted industry clusters of agribusiness and food, medical device and healthcare technology, supply chain and logistics, and electric vehicles (EV) and sustainable mobility. Our execution strategy develops an infrastructure foundation that enables an innovation economy, cultivates the talent needed to advance and sustain it, disrupts persistent [systemic] inequities and lack of economic mobility, and creates a model that can be scaled and replicated."

A brief overview of the Digital Delta plan submitted last year is provided in this document. The Coalition's entire Phase I preliminary application is available here.

Both those documents are likely to be supplanted by updated final submissions, not later than March 15.

Seven other regional economic development proposals from Tennessee were submitted for BBB RC consideration. The regional sponsors and links to their unsuccessful Phase 1 applications are here:

  • AgLaunch Initiative, SERIES-Ag Innovation (pdf here);
  • Chattanooga Regional Area Council of Governments, DRIVE 2.0 Mobility (pdf here);
  • East Tennessee Development District, Transformation Network (pdf here);
  • Founders Forge, NE TN Entrepreneurism (pdf here);
  • Tennessee River Valley (TRV) Stewardship Council, Crossing Boundaries (pdf here).
  • University of Tennessee, SE Quantum Coalition (pdf here);
  • Vanderbilt University, Lifeworks (story and links here).

Of the total eight (8) Tennessee proposals submitted to the BBB RC program, two proposals originated from lead sponsors based in West Tennessee area, five originated in East Tennessee, and one originated in Middle Tennessee. Notably, a number of the organizations backing and-or endorsing the regional proposals have multi-regional footprints.

As VNC has done on multiple previous occasions, these Tennessee-based EDA applications were obtained from EDA via an FOIA request.

This story will be updated as warranted. VNC

. last edited 11 February 2022 1430 - updated 1043 CT 3 Sept 2022 - a link update 26 Dec 2023.

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Tags: Aglaunch, AgLaunch Initiative, Build Back Better, Chattanooga Regional Area Council of Governments, Cody Behles, Digital Delta Coalition, East Tennessee Development District, economic development, Economic Development Administration, Fedex Institute of Technology, Founders Forge, Lifeworks, Lifeworks Accelerator, Ted Townsend, Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, workforce development

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