Federal legislation looks to boost regional technology hubs, manufacturers

Jun 2, 2021

Billions of dollars of federal money could soon be invested in regional technology initiatives, including those in Western New York. 

Credit Ryan Zunner / WBFO News

The U.S. Innovation and Competitive Act focuses on ten main areas for investment, like semiconductor manufacturing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and quantum computing.

While at M&T Bank’s Tech Hub at the Seneca One Tower, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said those are all areas Western New York is poised to capitalize on.

“We already have such great building blocks. Such as this not only  beautiful [Seneca One Tower], but all the people who work here at [Tech Hub] in terms of tech, innovation and future,” said Schumer. “This is going to be one of the leading centers not just in Western New York, not just in New York State, not just in the United States, but in the world. M&T is really putting their effort in. We also have one of the great tech innovation research centers at UB.”

The legislation would create a Technology and Innovation Directorate within the National Science Foundation to administer over $100 billion in federal investments to fund research, education, and commercial ventures which are deemed vital to the nation. 

The U.S. particularly lags behind other global powers in terms of semiconductor chip production. According to Business Insider, America only produces about 12% of the world’s semiconductors, which is a far cry from the 37% it produced in 1990. 

With reliance on China and Taiwan for valuable semiconductors, an ongoing shortage in those countries has hit home in the United States. General Motors and Ford have had to temporarily close some plants in America, as they simply don’t have the semiconductors available to install into automobiles. Other automakers like Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are rationing their supply, and are focusing their manufacturing efforts on higher-end models as a result. 

Plans are still ongoing to open a semiconductor chip plant in Batavia, which would provide thousands of jobs to Western New York. Senator Schumer said reasons to boost semiconductor production and domestic supply chains in general are far reaching.

“Countries like China have begun to close the gap with heavy investment in the key scientific areas,” he said. “If we fail to respond, if we let other countries whether it's China, or Korea, or Germany or any other overtake us in our scientific and innovation superiority, our economy will fall, our national security will fall, and we will no longer be the greatest country and greatest economic leader in the world. It's that important.”

EWI Manufacturing has a presence at Buffalo’s Northland Workforce Center, and they specialize in advising manufacturers on how to utilize new technologies to better operations. Their CEO Henry Cialone said this legislation would help small to medium sized manufacturers who are typically the ones producing parts for the greater supply chain, but are often forgotten.

“There's a significant investment in the early stage, science and technology that will feed these great outcomes,” Cialone said. “But it also looks at the end of the process with the regional hubs. That's where the applied research gets done. A lot of the small and medium manufacturers have a lot of barriers to implementing new technology [...] and I think a lot of that is being addressed through this bill.” 

Part of the Innovation and Competitive Act would allow the Department of Commerce to designate 10 regional technology hubs. That would include an additional $10 billion in federal funding specific for regional investments.  Senator Schumer is hopeful that these designations go to mid-size cities like Buffalo/Rochester with emerging technology sectors. 

“We don't want just New York City and San Francisco and Austin to get all these jobs, we have to share the wealth and spread it out,” Schumer said. “And that's one of the main purposes of this bill and one of the drivers.”

All told, the U.S. Innovation and Competitive Act would comprise around $250 billion in federal funds. It has bi-partisan support, as it was introduced by Schumer and co-sponsored by Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana. House Republicans and Democrats have also both expressed support for the bill, with Schumer saying its intent is to outcompete China in terms of manufacturing. It will go on the floor of the Senate this Tuesday.