Last October, President Biden announced 31 designated communities across the country as Regional Innovation and Technology Hubs through the Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

These tech hubs are expected to catalyze investment in technologies crucial for economic growth, national security, and job creation, according to a White House press release.

One such hub, the Ocean Tech Hub (OTH) in the Providence-Warwick region, led by the Rhode Island Commerce Corp., focuses on leveraging coastal assets for innovation in ocean technology.

OTH targets advancements in undersea robotics, automation, advanced materials, and composites, aiming to capitalize on Southeastern New England's strengths in these areas, as stated in its designation application, “targeting robotics and sensors with artificial intelligence/machine learning embedded, and the advanced material science needed for them.”

With significant private sector involvement, including a broader ocean technology supply chain of 8,294 companies, the hub seeks to tap into the region's expertise in marine science, robotics, and composites while supporting national security and exploring dual-use opportunities for commercialization.

This designation is part of the first phase of the Tech Hubs program, authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act, which aims to invest directly in high-potential U.S. regions, eventually transforming them into globally competitive innovation centers. Designated Tech Hubs are now eligible to apply for the next phase of the program, which will invest between $50-$75 million in each of five-to-10 Designated Hubs.

"The ocean is the next frontier in global exploration with the ocean economy positioned to grow by over $295 billion in the next five-to-10 years," the designation application stated. OTH believes that its technology areas have a competitive advantage within the ocean economy, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7%-15%. Estimations suggest an economic impact of $5.9 billion in sales and the creation of 15,700 jobs. “The additional investment from the U.S. EDA into an OTH will exponentially add to these estimations,” the company said. 

OTH’s designation application also highlighted the seven ports within the MSA that contribute to the advantages for the growing ocean technology sector, along with access to deepwater and nearby manufacturing and research facilities. Additionally, OTH noted the region’s ocean workforce of over 54,000, paired with an interstate commitment to the commercialization of ocean technology.

Specific projects include:

• The development of a digital twin of the Narragansett Bay and adjacent waters to enhance lab-to-market pipelines by providing a virtual, faster, and less expensive test environment for commercial research and development. Digital twins of the ocean are global priorities for the U.N. and E.U. and the OTH presents an opportunity for the U.S. to gain traction.

• The creation and/or expansion of an incubator, light manufacturing, fabrication, and assembly space at the water’s edge with multi-domain access (air, land, sea), adding physical capacity and commercial fabrication facilities in the Port of Davisville/Quonset, Port of Providence, and Port of New Bedford.

• The development of testing facilities in Narragansett and Buzzards Bay: A challenge noted by ocean technology companies and researchers is the lack of access to testing facilities. OTH will provide unique resources for testing and evaluating various technology devices and applications through coastal resources ideal for rapid testing of prototypes.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded the Ocean Tech Hub an additional Tech Hubs Strategy Development Grant to strengthen its capacity for manufacturing and deploying critical technologies.

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee and Massachusetts Gov. Maura T. Healey expressed their support for the Ocean Tech Hub in a U.S. Economic Development Administration announcement, highlighting its potential to drive innovation and economic growth in the region. 

"The 31 Tech Hubs focus on developing and growing innovative industries in regions across the country," the White House announcement said. "Tech Hubs bring together private industry, state and local governments, institutions of higher education, labor unions, Tribal communities, and nonprofit organizations to compete for up to $75 million implementation grants to further develop these fields and make transformative investments in innovation, supply chain resilience, and job creation."

Ben Hayden is a Maine resident who grew up in the shipyards of northern Massachusetts. He can be reached at (207) 842-5430 and [email protected].

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