Link to the report (google document) can be found here:
Content of the document as of 25 September 2023 reproduced below:
Learn About the CHIPS Act and How It Relates to Arkansas
WASHINGTON (22 August 2023) – From 13-15 September, IWRC (the Innovation, Workforce, and Research Conference) will bring together stakeholders from industry, government, and academia in Little Rock. There, attendees will meet, learn, talk, and discuss the CHIPS Act along with other government programs that promote innovation and small business in rural America.
Congress last year allocated $56 Billion for chip manufacturing in the United States with a mandate that the government funding should be allocated throughout the United States. IWRC will provide an opportunity to meet potential partners from the U.S. federal agencies and learn more about how to contribute to the Arkansas innovation ecosystem.
At this event, experts from the region and across the country will discuss research grants, technology transfer programs, start-up funding, intellectual property, and a host of other topics related to inspiring and empowering true innovation in the Heartland and Delta Regions.
“IEEE-USA is excited to be bringing the IWRC conference to Little Rock to help Arkansas engineers and entrepreneurs connect with the CHIPS Act and the federal agencies supporting it,” said Ed Palacio, 2023 IEEE-USA President. “IEEE-USA supported the CHIPS Act’s passage through Congress and we look forward to seeing its impact across the United States.””
Arkansas Economic Development Commission
This memorandum about the IWRC2023 conference was written by Michelle Thompson and Paul Williamson of Open Research Institute, a non-profit dedicated to open source research and development in digital radio.
ORI operates a Remote Lab, which provides field programmable gate array development boards for open source work. The development stations have Analog Devices radio cards, software licenses for the development environments, and remotely accessible test equipment for digital communications work up to 6 GHz. ORI can provide professional development opportunities through open source work to anyone with internet access. Contact ORI at email@example.com
IWRC2023 Day 1
Matt Francis of Ozark Integrated Circuits, Region 5 Representative Elect for IEEE, explains how IWRC2023 came about. He and other like-minded people had the idea for this conference, organized some people to start working on it, things started happening, and now here it is. “How are we going to respond to the CHIPS act? What about the rest of the country?” IEEE USA “took the ball” and ran with it. Russ Harrison, executive director of IEEE USA, and Jennifer Flower were introduced. The goal is to bring the CHIPS act to Arkansas, including the lower Mississippi Delta Region.
What can we expect to experience and learn at IWRC2023?
1) Information about federal funding.
2) Bringing the research community together.
3) CHIPS act is not about rewarding the traditional silos. Having to work together to build ecosystems, this is the power of the chips act.
4) 9 federal agencies present today.
5) An invitation to become part of the teams that are forming in this area.
6) Thanks to the sponsors (Standard Lithium, Philander Smith University)
7) Thanks to the exhibitors. They’re in the foyer. ArcBest, Arkansas APEX accelerator, NCTR, Ozark Integrated Circuit, Power Technology Incorporated, SURGE
Jennifer Fowler speaks next. She is the Director of EPSCoR for Arkansas. EPSCoR is Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Thanks everyone for joining us, some coming from out of state. Thank you for being on the journey.
How significant and novel is IWRC2023? When we were reaching out to sponsors and recruiting attendees, “Is it an entrepreneurial event? A data science event? A workforce thing? Academic? No, you can’t publish a paper.” Difficult to convince people to take a step outside their normal networks to do this with us. This is an interdisciplinary event. The people that are here are worth paying attention to because they want to form partnerships to get difficult and ambitious work done for the region.
Program, content, networking <== of value.
This is an important meeting for AEDC and the Department of Commerce, these events are imperative. Ideas for proposals and capital projects is what we should leave with.
IEEE USA staff thanked: Deb Cooper, past president. Ed Palacio, current president (not here). Both are consultants and small business owners and understand the conference goals and such. IEEE USA mission fits this conference. IEEE “Advances technology for humanity”. Deb speaks about IEEE USA.
She’s pinch hitting for Ed Palacio, she explains that she doesn’t have the swagger but does have more hair. Kathy Hyashi got a photo with the Little Rock Mayor (Mayor Scott) at yesterday evening’s opening reception. IEEE is a professional association of technologists. Deb is a mathematical technologist with a cybersecurity bent. IEEE helps innovators reach across industry sectors to find new partners. Help people and industry find new partners to find success. This includes partners within the federal and state government.
Matt Francis Region 5 Coordinator
Kathy Hyashi Region 6 Coordinator
John Birgenkur ? IEEE GLobal
Will Smith from Standard Lithium, plant manager El Dorado, chemical and project engineers, testing and trials. Standard Lithium is explained as a company and participating partner for CHIPS, then Will introduces Hugh McDonald, Secretary of Commerce for the state of Arkansas.
Standard Lithium is an up and coming lithium extraction facility, started 6 years ago, when some scientists from Canada said 7000 feet down was some Lithium in an existing and operating mine. “responsible lithium production” is achievable, as in there will be zero waste. There have been some very exciting announcements recently and they will be building the first commercial plant here soon. Feasibility study turned out very positive. The lithium formation is called the Smackover Formation.
Hugh McDonals was recently appointed. From Entergy, joined in 1982, worked his way up LA, TX, AR, MS. He retired in 2016. Got called out of the blue and appointed in 2023. Always been in the private sector. When you get announced as a Commerce Secretary, he explained that you get emails from all over the country from people trying to sell you stuff. One lobbying firm kept sending him stuff. About the CHIPS act. Not knowing many people in the State Government, he asked “what are we doing on the CHIPS act?” He got silence. He checked around, and finally after getting zero comment from everybody, he finds out that Jennifer Fowler of AEDC was the subject matter expert concerning CHIPS. He thanks and acknowledges Jennifer’s leadership. SURGE would not have happened without her, either. We learn more about SURGE later in the conference.
Scaling up regional economies is a priority. Improving education, growing the AR economy, creating meaningful careers, and not just jobs, is a clear focus. “A workforce development system second to none” is the goal.
Do all the departments that are focused on Workforce ever meet? Not before this. Working on big things you can’t really work it alone in your silo is what has to happen in order to take advantage of CHIPS. Seven state agencies are in the Workforce Cabinet, Mike Rogers has been appointed to a newly created position of Workforce Chief. He is profiled in an Arkansas Money and Power magazine that was current as of IWRC2023. Article included below.
It’s not about resources and who’s got the most, but it’s about thinking creatively and strategically, committing to a decision, and having the right people in the room. That’s what he is trying to do here. Seriously collaborating and working together, not just on paper, but actually doing it. That is how Arkansas can win, and that’s why SURGE was developed.
Early March late February was the first meeting for SURGE.
Within Commerce, there’s 9 different divisions. AEDC is one of them and it gets a lot of press. Main focus of commerce is to drive the state’s top line growth.
1) expanding existing business
2) recruiting businesses
3) growing small business.
Entrepreneurship has traditionally gotten less of a focus than it probably should have.
Workforce has to be calibrated and aligned to supply the workforce needs that are driven by the demand. Students need to be pulled through the system by the demand. Pushing the students through does not appear to work as well as it needs to.
1:50 engineers to technicians ratio was mentioned as an economic statistic.
Shortage of skilled workers exists in every category. Hugh says we have to focus on workforce. Manufacturing sector growth? We’re seeing more of this happening and the trend may continue. Companies have moved to diversify the risk of their supply chain to move production to more friendly countries, re-shore companies, and if the US continues to provide subsidies to US based manufacturing, then this will continue.
Economy in the US and the state? He feels pretty good about the economy. Unemployment rate here is 2.6% for two months in a row. This is the lowest it’s ever been.
Lots of projects are in the pipeline at Commerce. It feels good, but inflation is still here, fuel and energy prices were up 10% last month. Will the FED pause things with another rate increase? Who knows. We’ve got some opportunities and some threats and risks on the horizon. Fortunately we have strengths and a diversified economy. Pros and cons to that. When there’s a recession we mitigate the dips, but we also give up on enjoying the big peaks.
JB Hunt, Tyson, WalMart, FinTech are all in Central AR, Desaux Falcon, Agriculture products, steel business (US Steel) in MS county is now the top steel producing county in the US. Lithium will be mined in South AR. Hugh claimed Arkansas was #1 drone readiness. Arkansas has the 3rd Lowest cost of living in the US, and is rated as the best place to start a business. Arkansas claims to be the mountain biking capital of the world, especially in NW AR.
We discussed what “#1 in drone readiness” meant among ourselves, since we have a drone project and at least one licensed drone pilot on the ORI board. We concluded that this status does not directly relate to open source drone technology.
Hugh continued his pro-Arkansas speech. Arkansas does punch above its weight class in many categories, and produces a disproportionate number of technical leaders. As we will see in several of the discussions throughout the conference, brain drain is a significant challenge for Arkansas. Very capable and intelligent people are educated in the state and then leave after graduation.
Hugh stated that there is “Not a lot of big city dysfunction. Quality of life and quality of place is high.”
There are lots of trails and outdoors and entertainment. “If you’re moving here, we’ll give you back 2-3 days of your life in terms of commute time saved.”
Collaboration emphasized. Build some alliances. Come back. We have a lot of work to do.
Dr. JD Swanson from the NSF was introduced next. The person introducing him took some time to describe the exhibitors present. For example, the “Transfer” table opens up the opportunity to see what jobs really are like. What is it like doing a day in the life of several different jobs? This system is Snapdragon, Unity, and XR headset. This allows for safe hands-on simulation training in a 360 degree environment. You feel like you’re there. Line worker simulation walks you through what it’s like to replace a transformer. It helps you to experience what it’s really like in order for people to be better aware of the jobs available to them. Simulations include engineers, scientists, and healthcare workers. Transfer is, essentially, a Digital Coach. A classroom-to-career pathway was mentioned several times. Job placement and retention are the goal.
JD then speaks. NSF is addressing historically underfunded places. JD is program director for EPSCor, at NSF.
Where are we thinking at the federal level about building innovation ecosystems? How can we develop research capacity? Create opportunities to be able to participate in the stem research enterprise.
This is a place where ORI can participate, with professional development through open source work.
NSF strategic plan 2022-2026 described and highlighted.
1) enable STEM talent to fully participate. He is the son of a plumber and a hairdresser. He “shouldn’t be here”. But people took chances on him. He’s from New Zealand. Open up the opportunities for others like him. He lived here in Arkansas and his wife worked in schools in Mayflower.
2) We are the NSF. Make new science! Include everyone! Critical to our nation’s wellbeing.
3) What are the societal benefits of the work we’re doing? If we create knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and we don’t consider science and society, then we are not doing what we should be doing.
Bob Anderson, Structures of Mind <== book recommendation.
4) Where are we as a community? Reaction is a “sine curvy” amount of output. As a community, go into a creation mindset. Plan, predict, move as a group. As a jurisdiction, this will help you in many ways, only one of which is to increase the probability of success in obtaining grant money.
This is a great talk by a talented speaker who genuinely cares about the NSF’s mission.
Ecosystem approach, collaborate together, include, think about end-use.
NSF EPSCoR, stimulates competitive research. The program has a broad spectrum, from Guam to South Carolina. How can these states build and develop research capacity over time? Research Capacity – what is it? How can we define it? How does it connect to education? Industry? Economic development?
EPSCoR was established 1979. Where are we? Where are we going? Informed by a lot of feedback. “Envisioning the Future of EPSCoR”, 2M study, NSF Strategic Goals.
The jurisdictions under EPSCoR were introduced and explained.
Top four jurisdictions take 32% of all the money. Underserved jurisdictions are now a focus. EPSCoR is where it’s at in terms of diverse engagement. Key elements that lead to success in building research capacity were listed:
Attractiveness of Jurisdictions (this was not explained)
Visibility and Reputation
Building research capacity takes time.
It takes 3-10 years to just build a team.
Universities move at glacial pace. 10-20 years to build research capacity in any sense.
20-50 years within a jurisdiction, looking at the broader picture.
EPSCoR has been around for 40 years, and is just now seeing results.
This is very slow. How do we get this to happen now? Sooner?
Research ecosystem approach is the focus of the work today at the NSF.
E.g. Guam’s needs are very different from Arkansas, which are very different from Montana’s. Recognizing that each place has a distinct ecosystem is a necessary and fundamental step. NSF wants to enable the growth of the partnerships and push for the collaboration that will allow broad and deep development of research capacity.
Scalable and dynamic ecosystem structures are what we are after.
What does an ecosystem look like?
Multi-jurisdiction, multi-state efforts are something he highlighted repeatedly.
“Regional innovation engines” mentioned. This is a concept and program from the NSF. https://new.nsf.gov/funding/initiatives/regional-innovation-engines/about-nsf-engines
This is a large funded program and we heard a lot more about it during the rest of the conference. The way that Engines fit into Tech Hubs (which are from the EDA, or Economic Development Administration, in the Department of Commerce) was the subject of discussion during a breakout session.
Partnerships with industry, public/private, tribal, and other federal agencies all provide support. What does the ecosystem look like?
“Re-envision what Track 1 grants look like.” Results were presented. Two new solicitations have replaced the Track 1 solicitations. E-CORE NSF 23-587 and E-RISE NSF 23-588.
What does research capacity look like? It consisted of two levels, a fundamental level on the bottom that stimulates actual research competitiveness. It includes all sorts of infrastructure and administration. Therefore E-CORE.
So, design something around those core needs. At the same time, there are strengths within a jurisdiction that need to be specifically addressed. This is what E-RISE handles. This sounds like the customization required by that jurisdiction.
EPSCoR is 2.9% of the NSF budget. So, there’s much more to go after. For example, “NSF Funded”.
E-CORE connects ecosystem entities together. It will also be housed in a total process improvement cycle.
Track 1: 5 years, not renewed, one per jurisdiction.
E-CORE 4+4 years renewal, not limited to jurisdiction.
E-RISE: 4+3 years renewal, not limited to jurisdiction.
What does E-CORE look like? There is an Administrative Core, which connects individuals and makes it possible for them to fit. Connect them together. E-CORE provides a path. E-CORE entities are expected to know who is who at the zoo. Measurable progress in building research capacity is expected. Playing the connection role. The Jurisdictional Science and Technology Plan is a living document. Knowing your sphere of influence helps with connecting people. Steering committees allow a wider reach.
These are excellent plans from NSF. For many of us, doing this sort of work is a vocation. Connecting people to create and build research capacity is grossly under-appreciated. Build out the capacity with E-RISE. The reach might be a few folks, but the jurisdiction steering committee can reach farther.
Strengths and challenges identified. Modular Cores are listed. Including “Other”. There’s no way as a jurisdiction that you can tackle all of these at once. Build metrics and milestones to show what you’ve met. In the renewal phase you can identify where to go from there. Swap out these modular cores. Dynamism comes through as you progress forward. SNT plans are the way these are recorded.
Sustainable infrastructure. Question/Hypothesis driven. What does the jurisdiction really want? Research is at the top of the pyramid. It needs to be housed within time-bounded societal impact. Workforce development relevant to that particular J topic. These topics have to be translated to realtime stuff. Like what we do at Remote Lab South. Culture of inclusion. Everybody that wants to take part, can. This leads to renewal.
There’s a lot more to NSF than this. CHIPS and Science act is about, to him, broadening participation. By 2029 20% needs to go to EPSCoR jurisdictions. This is a 2x increase over today’s numbers, where it’s around 10%.
Where do you want to go as a jurisdiction? Ask hard questions. Where are you as a community? Be in the creation mindset.
NSF is a small part of this, but there are a lot of other divisions.
“Granted” program, and TIP. Technology, Innovation, Partnerships. <== both have been mentioned to ORI as something we should try for and be part of. TIP Director is scheduled to speak tomorrow.
TIP weaves things together.
There are different models of innovation represented by these different programmatic approaches. Pure Basic Research, Use-inspired basic research, Tinkering, and applied research.
The “Dynamic and Complementary STOKES Model” from 2005 was mentioned. It’s not a linear transition to the “Revised Dynamic Model”.
Regional innovation engines: Final merit review process for Type II. ArkLaMiss won one, $160 million “get the gang together” awards. “Connected health” and other things addressed by this grant.
“Connecting Communities” building bridges to use-inspired research and science-informed practices. For example, the people that are funded by USDA often don’t talk to the “odd” people that do cell biology, for example. Workshops to build bridges (above) was a program to connect communities that need to talk to each other but haven’t before. 900 participants were drawn from every state and every sector. Down-selection happened, and then they had a meeting at Boise State, developed a community that came out with 23 different initiatives, in order to move communities forward.
This is very new for these communities and is the sort of work that NSF would like to see more of.
Office of Integrated Activities: “Granted” program. Marta recommended us to look at this program. Reduces barriers in accessing resources to support competitive research and training programs and projects.
Think about end-use.
That’s why we do this at the end of the day. It’s for real people that we know and see in our communities.
1) Advancing the frontiers of research and innovation
2) Ensure accessibility
3) Be the best at what your do.
The guidance is to think as a jurisdictional ecosystem. NSF is trying to deliver the tools. EPSCoR is a federal state partnership that is working to support increasing research capacity.
Deb is back up on the stage and she thanks the speakers and explains that a networking session is next. We come back at 10:30.
IWRC2023: Breakout Session 10:30am Thursday “Advanced Energy & Critical Minerals”
Moderator: Becky Keogh, Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration
Lisa Perry, Walmart Energy Services
Will Smith, Standard Lithium
Dr. John Verboncoeur, Michigan State University
Dr. Branden Bough, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office
There’s big federal money, combined with state and local resources. She’s been working with the governor’s cabinet, “taking them through a visioning process.” Looking for ways to create meaningful, sustainable investment. Public safety, education, infrastructure, clean energy, and other “stuff that will move us forward.” $7 billion has been announced for Arkansas already, with more pending. Mostly it has been transportation and broadband. There is a “hydrogen hub” initiative, with awards to be announced in October, a regional hub with Oklahoma and Louisiana. A “halo hub” in finger quotes. Hydrogen “based on electrolyzer technology”, domestically sourced, to deal with intermittency. For everything from long haul transportation to fork lifts, and to reduce emissions. Something about carbon sequestration on the Louisiana side, too.
Lisa Perry is a senior manager in energy services for Walmart, dealing with regulatory and innovative technology programs. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminology and psychology, and became an attorney working in estate planning. She found that her engineer clients were more time consuming, because of their attention to detail and compulsion to understand everything.
Walmart has aggressive sustainability goals for their huge transportation fleet: 50% renewable energy by 2025, 100% renewable energy by 2035, and carbon-free (with no offsets) by 2040. They have the largest privately-owned fleet in the United States. Working with rooftop solar, energy storage, electrifying buildings (heating), and alternative fuels for delivery vehicles. They’ve installed 1200 public EV chargers at stores, but only as site host for third-party companies. They intend to add Walmart-owned chargers at thousands of stores. Scaling things up to Walmart scale is a big deal, with thousands of stores, and customer expectations of low prices.
Will Smith is the plant manager for Standard Lithium’s pilot plant (so far) in El Dorado, Arkansas. Standard Lithium is a Canadian company now, but plays to re-headquarter in El Dorado in the near future. At El Dorado they are working with Great Lake Chemical Corporation, which has been extracting bromine from underground saltwater (“brine”) for 60 years. They took a sample of the brine to Canada and figured out how to economically extract lithium from it. The formation containing lithium is huge, extending into Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. Oil and gas were extracted from the top of the foundation, and the brine was dumped into evaporation ponds as a waste product. Now, the brine is pumped up, the valuables extracted, and then pumped back into the formation, with no waste products. There is future potential to add carbon sequestration into this cycle. Standard Lithium has already purchased a 118 acre site near Magnolia for a second production plant.
The product (battery grade lithium carbonate) is a fine, white powder. They are careful to label it very clearly, lest it be mistaken for some other highly lucrative powders cooked up out in the desert.
Branden Brough is the director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), which is under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. In 2003 legislation was signed codifying the National Nanotechnology Initiative: every federal agency and department would make some contribution to nanotechnology. 20+ agencies are coordinated by NNCO. By nanotechnology they mean cutting edge science and technology, dealing with materials almost atom by atom. Mostly, that seems to be semiconductor fabrication. There are existing technology centers in Texas and other places, with more to come, maybe even in Arkansas.
John Verboncoeur is associate dean of research and graduate studies at Michigan State University. Michigan, he notes, is a manufacturing state much like Arkansas. He has a PhD in nuclear engineering from UC Berkeley. “I was told I can’t show my equations.”
He says there are 1.3 billion vehicles in the fleet that need to be converted to electric, but supply contracts for materials such as lithium only extend to about 2026, not enough to make a big dent in the job. In Arkansas natural gas is finally a bigger energy source than coal, within the last three years. Nuclear energy is also a big fraction, and renewable energy is a significant fraction. He’d prefer to lump together nuclear and renewable sources and call them green energy. There is work on biofuels, with the goal of making them good enough to use for jet fuel. He sees that non-thermal electron distribution is a key to higher efficiencies in chemical processes. He believes that component-driven optimization needs to yield to a more systems-level approach. For example, the electricity delivery grid is not able to adapt quickly enough for Arkansas to switch to fully electric vehicles, so hybrids might be better overall in the short term.
He sees a big problem with highly skilled workers aging out, but universities are not able to change their curricula to match industry needs rapidly: it takes a few years for all the administrative approvals, then five more years before the first graduates pop out. His proposed solution to this is a less math-intensive degree called “engineering technology”. He wants to funnel people who are either not interested in engineering because of the heavy math, or who are failing engineering, into this path, because, he says, there’s a bigger need for people who can fix things than for people who can design them. Supposedly this kind of degree could be rapidly approved under an umbrella program and then pop out graduates in just two years. (It was not quite possible to hear the Arkansans’ eyes rolling; they’ve had engineering technology degrees for decades.)
All those speaker introductions took up a lot of time. There was some time left for Q&A.
Q & A
Q: What are the barriers to electrification of vehicles?
Walmart and JB Hunt have enormous fleets, spanning many different kinds of trucks. The same emissions-reduction technologies won’t work for all classes of truck.
Rural areas are a big challenge for the EV charging network.
For commercial trucking, you’d like to build big charging centers at strategic locations, which are likely to be in rural areas. However, the grid providers have major logistical challenges in supporting concentrated loads like that. It takes them 18 months just to source a new transformer, for instance.
Q: Does the difficulty of extracting lithium cleanly impact the rollout of electric vehicles?
Absolutely. Today, electric vehicles are backordered. You can’t just go into a dealership and buy one. The supply chain is simply not there yet.
There are presently 136 publicly-traded lithium extraction companies (versus 35 for copper), but almost every company is still in the test-tube phase. Standard Lithium is the only company with a full demonstration plant, which is a necessary step between the lab and production plant. Theirs is fully automated and produces lithium, with process improvements being worked on all the time.
For many extraction processes, water pollution is a big concern. Some of those 136 companies claim to be nearly ready to go, but they don’t have water use permits and might not be able to qualify for them. Some are also on hilltops with no feasible plan to get electric power to the site.
Smith believes that in places like Arkansas, extraction companies have a sort of “social license” that’s unavailable in other areas. He means that people here are more comfortable with the idea and willing to accept more industrialization.
Standard Lithium does have difficulty hiring workers. They already have to hire workers and train them afterwards.
Standard Lithium welcomes all the competition; there’s plenty of demand to go around. They compute that if all goes well for their new plants, in the 2026-2027 time frame they will only able to supply 10% of the projected demand … from JUST ONE of their customers.
Q: Are there other critical minerals?
Yes. There are other battery chemistries and architectures besides lithium ion, suitable for other use cases. Engineers need to think about end use cases! Maybe sulfur or solid-state batteries, biofuels, or hydrogen. There is no one critical element; we need to use everything. “We need more darts to throw at our dartboard.”
Arkansas has one of the lowest energy rates in the country. New solutions need to be low-cost, too.
John also serves on the IEEE nanotechnology council. They are looking for alternative materials to replace expensive rare earths.
John (nuclear engineer) reminds us that fusion power is 50 years away (and has been for a long time). He says that applies to big tokamak-style reactors. The capital costs of such reactors may be permanently out of reach for commercial deployment. He thinks smaller classes of reactors are more likely to be commercially viable. Modular fission reactors can be built in factories, instead of custom-built on site, at a savings of 2x to 10x.
There is some commercial investment in fusion already, but it’s high risk venture capital. Recently the news reported that the National Ignition Facility achieved what’s called “scientific break-even”, where the amount of energy generated exceeds the energy fed into the reactor itself. But that’s maybe 1/50th of the total energy consumed, so we’re still a long way from a practical fusion reactor. And neutrons are still a problem. But there are alternate fusion pathways that are inherently neutron-free. John thinks smaller fusion reactors are possible. Maybe even small enough to power a vehicle. (Nobody actually said the words “Mr. Fusion” loud enough for me to hear).
In the brief open-mic Q&A, a participant begged Standard Lithium to consider extracting other valuable elements from the brine. Sodium, for example.
And then it was time for “networking lunch”.
IWRC2023 Breakout Session: “Education and Workforce Panel”
Brittney Hilliard, works with Jennifer Fowler at AEDC.
Dr. Tina Moore, Arkansas Department of Higher Educatio, and workforce development activist, is our panel moderator.
CHIPS act is the primary focus of the conference, but we are also discussing adjacent funding and activities, such as the Infrastructure Act with 700,000 jobs and Broadband Expansion and Access Deployment Program. 23,000 jobs in telecom and 800,000 jobs overall. The Inflation Reduction Act was also another infrastructure development act.
There is a declining workforce situation, according to the moderator. The age and type of workforce we need, really needs support.
LEARNS Act – what does the R stand for? Career Readiness. The executive order and the act is about readiness. Apprenticeship, recognized credentials while in high school, etc.
8 minutes in and we begin introductions of the panelists. This is done quickly and well.
Q: We often speak of H3 (High Wage, High Skill, High Demand) jobs, but it’s not actually well defined or quantified. Let’s focus on highly skilled jobs. What are the relevant credentials or skills for your specific focus area?
A: Amy Elrond from Acxiom: it is a customer intelligence company. Understand your company’s customers better. We use data and technology therefore CS BS, data science, cyber security, those sorts of things. Degrees. Certifications are a huge focus right now. Development of the current workforce with respect to carts is a big deal. AWS, GCP, Snowflake, as well as cloud partners that are specific to a use case. Like Salesforce. Huge company and we have lots of different ways we interact with them. Training is often industry specific, but cloud certs are a big deal right now.
Q: Audience: cloud certs are they internal or are you working with outside certificate authorities? What is the metric for validity?
A: Acxiom: Certifications are proctored and administered through orgs that do those types of things. Outside bodies and third party content providers like A-Cloud guru and O’Reilly. This is designed to help associates educate themselves on these cloud platforms. And we have an on-staff technical trainer. He works with the associates to help them understand what they should study. We do look for certifications when we hire people.
A: Lonnie Emard from Arkansas Center for Data Sciences says that they set up apprenticeships and are trying to define career paths and look for standardization across the industry. As opposed to any one company’s requirements. Finding ways to get the most efficient way to increase research capacity. Individual company vs. a big picture view.
A: Educational Part (Dr. Suzan Anwar from Philander Smith University) from the point of view of the University, requirements are what is at stake and is centered. Learning how to learn new technologies. Skill gaps are addressed by educators in two ways. Vocational tech approach or a learn how to learn approach. Internships do help. Students go out and apply curriculum to the practical arts. This is from a computer science perspective. Education and Workforce development is crucial.
A: Dr. Argelia Lorene from Arkansas State University: thanks JD Swanson and EPSCoR for empowering good science at a scale that hasn’t been able to be done before. (I’m a big fan of Argelia’s work and was hoping to hear from her). Greenhouses in the field to test large collections of rice varieties that are more resistant to heat stress. The way this relates to workforce development is that the thing that made this project possible was a large vertical accessibility, starting by including high school students and letting them stay involved and active until graduation from University. This long relationship with a large project teaches people things that a classroom cannot. Power skills, not soft skills, are being developed here.
A: Acxiom: don’t lose sight of the fact that we need technical education, but we have to have the education that Argelia is talking about – emotional intelligence, empathy, science and society, tough conversations that you don’t want to have but have to have forthrightly, these are the things that are taught by a different type of educational structure, the sort that we want to see more of.
Q: As we talk about workforce gaps, like the “skills gap”, what are the biggest workforce challenges that you have?
A: Lonnie: with respect to apprenticeships, is invited to address this question first. The moderator is a proud parent to a plumber, and apprenticeship is a huge win. There’s so much more to apprenticeships.
We heard an excellent talk about this at Comic-Con with respect to artist apprenticeships. The presentation was by Cutter Hays, and was in the program here: https://comiccon2023.sched.com/event/1OXXb/old-school-apprenticeships-today
There is a lot of synergy between these two efforts, with the presenters saying things that aligned and reinforced each other.
A: Lonnie says that they learned very quickly that they had to grow their own. Apprenticeships in non-traditional pathways. People sitting in claims processing with music degrees became software developers. Sitting side by side with the Georgia Tech graduates. “How can we do this?” With an end-to-end process, degree or not, to close the capacity gap and fill all up and down the levels. Apprenticeship is the epitome of workforce and education coming together. This is the proof of how it works. Plumber, IT software, electrician, developer – doesn’t matter, apprenticeship works. That training in the classroom coupled with on the job training with a mentor – all of a sudden that learning is rich and applied immediately. 127 employers now use this. 630 apprentices in the last 3 years. Leads the country in IT apprenticeship. CHIPS act, how it can help. If we can do this for IT, then we can do this for the workforce development asked for from CHIPS.
Collaborative ecosystem. Apprenticeships are quite often skipped over. Apprenticeships from ACDS are a strategy, not a flavor of the month. Yes, you have to go to campus, hire people through traditional college output, sure, but this is not enough people. There are not enough graduates to meet the need.
Q: audience: I am running a startup doing biotech. Can’t find employees. Pure skill is lacking. We need clinical lab skills, but can’t afford to pay an intern.
A: Lonnie: your question isn’t new. They don’t all have the same circumstances. There’s an economic value. Apprenticeships and internships are not the same. Very different. Apprenticeship is a commitment from the employer. Internships really only help the student. Investment is made in the apprentice. We’ve been able to get a $2000 per apprentice tax credit here in AR, and maybe that will help you. Short term? Apprenticeship might work if you catch someone moving around in their career. Rob Peter to pay Paul but it’s not capacity building to snipe or poach skilled people from other companies. Where is the next career changer? We can backfill from a pipeline of talent from all levels. Use the apprenticeship model and don’t settle for something less. They’re not a perfect fit (apprentices) but the upside is tremendous.
E.g. The moderator gave an example of a cybersecurity person with an MBA, and who was apprenticed to a bank that needed security. They already understood banking, and were learning cybersecurity.
A: comment from the audience: Office of Skills Development and Arkansas Economic Development might be able to help this startup. AEDC may be able to provide funding. Lonnie reiterates the same message.
Support for professional development is from the Office of Skills Development.
Internships from Universities for the summer are important. When they put people in front of an employer, and they have a certification, they may not have any practical experience.
A: Dr. Anwar: co-design courses based on what students need to learn. Can partner with the schools in order to get the student ready upon graduation. Blue Cross Blue Shield partnerships and on the advisory board for CS.
A: Argelia: later today in another panel Air Force IP talk will touch on some of this. Biotech graduates are actually available so get in touch. Real life example of how we interact with partners. Using NSF EPSCoR we acquired specialized equipment that lets us quantify something in particular very quickly. We were the first university to get this online. 12 years later, since we were first, Google X is doing plant science and they chose our lab. Research contract with Google X and now undergrads are gaining skills and being offered internships there. There’s a lot of talent in AR and there’s a lot of talent that can come here if the conditions are good. That’s why I am here. I love science and research and is all in. Thank you for this conference and it’s energizing to learn from other fields.
Q: Question for Amy (Acxiom): how do you partner with education?
A: Amy: we partner a lot with higher ed, but programs like “Girls of Promise” are ways we are lowering the ages of these partnerships. We are actively seeking internships for students. Sometimes this results in a full time offer. Having people on boards that serve on institutions is something that helps increase the vascularity of the connected educational places with companies like Acxiom. People that haven’t traditionally pursued a STEM pathway, let’s make it more inclusive to anyone that wants to participate. Let’s break down the barriers that have grown up. We fund a scholarship for underrepresented groups for a $5000 award. We have done a little bit to get earlier in the pipeline, called Hip Hop Express. Turns out it was a bus and traveled to the Girls and Boys Club, come on to the bus, and learn the science behind music engineering, using hip hop. It’s hard to be what you don’t see. If there aren’t people that look like you then it’s hard to imagine that pathway. A culture of inclusion – anyone that wants to participate, can be, because of a practice of radical inclusion.
Q: Rodney Block was cited by the introducer. Music is math. To this point, Jennifer Fowler says it seems like we should be starting earlier. We don’t do a great job of showcasing everything that a STEM career might include or look like. Industrial engineering, for example. It’s more about there are ways to look for meeting the students where they are, and showing them all the elements present in the world of STEM. Students often say “I just can’t do math” but they really can, and they get turned off by middle school. You have to be earlier than middle school and how do we pull this off? The Innovation Hub twice a year has activities that promote girls specifically.
Empowering girls in cyber and technology. Bringing everyone together is the goal. So many adults care and want to help and want to share and show what is going on. Especially when they see someone that looks like them. Dr. Reina “what does it look like when you’re in a research lab” program cited by moderator. Moderator comes from a low education family, whose father didn’t graduate high school. She stumbled in the dark and managed to get up and out of it on her own. How much better a job we can do if we all help each other achieve a lot more.
Q: Audience: we don’t lack in ways to produce engineers. We lack true workforce development. I need wire bonders, people that can fix the machines, not IT! We don’t have maintenance and fixers and doers and technicians.
(Please see previous comments about the Innovation Hub. If it was run in the way it was originally envisioned and deployed, then it would help directly address this need in an energetic manner)
We have a lot of people with book learning (maybe not a lot, honestly) and we have lots of entitled managers with turf issues. We need more real workers. We need practical skills in the labor force.
A: Lonnie: maintenance repair and technical jobs are a targeted space for registered apprenticeships.
A: Argelia: science communication is important and not happening to the level it needs to be happening.
Q: We have enough BS degrees. But they are not in the right things. We are woefully behind in mid-skills people. High School grads are not going to get good jobs.
A: audience: How do we get the word out to the students? We have no way to connect students with good apprenticeships and opportunities? Can we reignite closed schools? Technical schools closing down?
A: Lonnie: supply side vs. consumer side problems. End to end apprenticeships have an applicant tracking system, collective tracking. 16,000 applications received. Lots of stories that have been built over 3.5 years over “what could be possible”. Trying to find ways to market this. Mike Rogers as the state workforce chief is trying to unify a system to help address this at ACDS. How is this going to get marketed? Hodgepodge but mostly old school channels through municipalities. Match made in Arkansas is a catchphrase from this apprenticeship program. Employers are one side of the chasm with a job requirement and they expect a bunch of people to meet this overconstrained position. Then there are a lot of people looking across the chasm wanting to participate and not knowing how.
A: Dr. Anwar: shares a story about working with UALR on something about cyber, and they brought in middle and high schoolers to teach them security and she was teaching through Escape Rooms. Middle schoolers started investigating, and at the end accessed the data center. Several students said they wanted to be a technician. “I want to be the person that goes to the data center and fixes things.” They really liked it and it clicked with them. If they get involved with these types of activities like during the summer workshops or camps, they will really like it and it makes a positive difference.
A: Argelia: making our students, no matter their age, that they need to be perpetual learners, this is what makes life exciting.
Q: moderator: 22 two-year public colleges in the state. The driving distances shouldn’t be bad. Even in the Delta. You do not have to go to a two-year college to pursue a degree. And there’s shorter term training. Like, broadband and fiber academies, to certify people in technicians. $50,000 a year jobs.
Q: US Steel audience member brought challenges: We are 5 minutes from MO, 30 minutes from TN, which means other states pull talent away. We have jobs that pay over $100,000. It’s one of the biggest and poorest counties. We have a vast amount of resources in the two-year colleges, but marketing opportunities? He’s been there 27 years, but one can drive 30 minutes in any direction and people have never heard of his company!
A: Comment, audience: Got to get inside schools. FFA used to come to schools with the cool jackets and make impressions. We have to be very intentional and very non-traditional. Reaching the population at risk, felons, females, veterans, and the forgotten. We have a job ahead of us. We’re better positioned now than we ever have been. Market like you have never marketed before. Reach the people!
Steel industry faces challenges from the economy around them. They can’t improve the schools and the economy unless we can employ AR, and not MO and TN people.
NWTI program mentioned twice. Representation in welding, trucking, etc.
Q: moderator: retention of top talent can be a challenge. Our brilliant and most brightest may leave the state. How do we keep these people here? (This was going to be my question)
A: Argelia: people that have started their own companies instead of leaving have been a big step forward. Creating an inclusive environment is extremely important. She can share a personal story about living in Jonesboro.
A: Dr. Anwar: if they don’t see arms opening for them, they will leave. We have to create a conducive environment. Multi-pronged approach necessary.
A: Amy Acxiom: twofold – first, companies have to create an environment that makes people want to stay. Continuous learning and development opportunities. Connect and identify or ally communities.
IWRC2023 Plenary Panel
Kathy Hyashi (K) moderating. Deb introduces her. They’ve known each other for many years.
K introduces herself. Amazing discussions so far, and more to come. Region 6 director. Largest non-profit for technologists in the world. Co-chair of future directions for semiconductors (global). Informing and engaging and supporting them for all the initiatives around the world, including the CHIPS act.
Introduces the panel at 7 minutes. How it is going to impact the regional areas.
Dr. Hugh Churchill U of A (Dr. H): confession – not an engineer, but a physicist. A sheep in wolf’s clothing. He is involved with MonArk Quantum Foundry https://www.monarkfoundry.org There was some sort of delay with his microphone and he had to repeat his introduction. He said “The joke would have been much more funnier if you all had heard it” and the audience appreciated his sense of humor.
The MonArk Foundry uses robots and AI to dramatically accelerate quantum material device development. Many other institutions are involved. Revolutionary technologies for quantum computing and sensors. He explains two pipelines for this quantum foundry. Crystal in, package out. 2d crystals? Automation and AI means we’ll be a service to broad collaboration. World leading source of 2d semiconductors. UAF has two other strong pillars of excellence. Allen Mantouth silicon carbide facility in Fayetteville. First low volume open access site in the country. Applications include night vision and other integrated photonics. Their efforts allowed us to put together a proposal to DoD commons solicitation involving 20 states that could push beyond silicon semiconductors for future commercial development of technologies. This involves startups and big iron companies. Specific to our state, rather than small aircraft or soybeans, the most impactful export we have is people. Hundreds of AR working in leadership positions are all over the place. Lots of AR people leave. Imperative that we create opportunities for these people so they do not leave. Companies that exploit the things brought about by the innovations, too – these are super important for retention.
Q: K: give me one word to describe the chips act?
Q: K: next, let’s have John Hardin from NC Department of Commerce speaking. He is a political scientist by training. This is a very difficult science. The subject matter changes and knows it’s being studied. Discord and social media have changed things. He dIdn’t want to be a full time academic. Wanted to do applied work. UNC has 16 UNC institutions that allow for this sort of work that he wanted to do. After working there for 7 years, moved to the department of commerce in tech-based economic development. 1) he joined the advisory board (the oldest science technology and innovation board in the country, established 1963, quietly responsible for most of the science and technology advancements and programs in the state of NC, and the politicians take the credit), and 2) runs grant programs, the most important of which is a matching grant program for small businesses in the state that have received SBIRs and STTRs. Those programs go directly from 11 different federal agencies to the company, but it’s often insufficient. Therefore, NC has a matching program and he thinks AR does too. The work is policy, programs, tactics. CHIPS act is a big deal in NC and mobilizing business, communities, and non-profits is his focus. Take advantage of the CHIPS act as much as possible.
Q: K: Give me one word to describe the CHIPS act?
Q: K: April Campbell US Economic Development Administration. Been with EDA 30 years, and worked in state government before that. Community development is a focus. Feel a bit out of her realm being here with scientists, but when she talks about tech hubs, she gets a lot of traction because she knows how to help bring them about and support them. EDA got $10 billion to create these regional innovation and technology hubs. Infrastructure for manufacturing, and a little bit of R&D and a little bit of workforce development. Cities, counties, universities, and some non-profits are involved. Business and marketing, all coming together to make good things happen. EDA is very excited about the opportunity to be involved.
Q: K: Give me one word to describe the CHIPS act?
Q: K: Dr. Craig Scott with NIST advanced manufacturing program. He is from Morgan State University HBCU in Baltimore MD, and has done everything one could do as a professor there. He went to NIST on sabbatical to work with the office of advanced manufacturing. At these two-ish offices he’s been involved with at NIST, he’s done work for CHIPS and “Manufacturing USA” program. MUSA is a public private partnership (involving 17 institutions) which helps bring innovation about. Product realization. Two parts to it, MUSA and M extension program, that works for smaller companies. Within 17 institutions there are 2500 members and they collaborate on 670 projects. 106,000 people trained. A large number of dollars invested. HBCU are historically black colleges or universities. These schools were established prior to the Civil rights Act in 1964 and serve Black students. There’s 101 in the US. They are 3% of the accredited institutions, producing 30% of the STEM graduates in this country. There are 4 HBCU in AR. People do not understand HBCUs and how important they are to the economy. His primary responsibility was to develop better relationships with HBCUs.
Q: K: Give me one word to describe the CHIPS act?
Q: K: Knowing the strengths? AR and other regions have been looking at the strengths they have and what opportunities might exist to leverage these strengths in the CHIPS act. CHIPS act specifically – what is the most impactful to your regions? In terms of programs, technology, technology transfer, workforce development?
A: April: Tech hubs portion of it for us is the biggest, $10 billion is a lot of money for us to help develop. 5 states, HQ in Austin. Yearly budget is $40 million, but a $10 billion infusion is enormous. Workforce centers, rail lines, sewers are what we do. 10 billion coming into the region is a landmark enormous event. High hopes for AR – there’s 6 or 7 applications to be recognized as a tech hub. Build Back Better was a regional program focused on economic development. AR received zero money from that, and all other surrounding states did receive funding so maybe this tech hub thing can counterbalance that disparity
A: Craig Scott thinks the largest impact will be from the workforce part of it. All of the components of the CHIPS act have a workforce component in it. Technology innovation and industry and workforce to respond to it – getting the people trained and the right credentialing system in place is important.
A: John Hardin says that his department of Commerce has a lot going on with CHIPS but it hasn’t hit NC yet at all. The office of science technology and innovation didn’t focus on this, though. His office deals with small business and universities. The biggest opportunities in the short run has been the regional tech hubs program. The most impactful for his purposes: NC technology strengths are concentrated all in the research triangle area. Three R1 universities and an airport and a tech hub have emerged over decades. Outside of that? Not as strong. His board produces “Tracking Innovation” metrics from across the state, and does a comparison to other states. As a state they rank 20th, but if you look only at RTP, it’s in the top 5. We have been trying to push out into the other parts of the state and it’s not worked so far. They have not had a lot of success. It takes a lot of time and money and sustained leadership (this is key). It just hasn’t had this going on long enough or effectively enough. The tech hub program is going to help with this to bolster up other regions in the state. There have been 6-7 tech hub applications.
Q: K:Considering your proposals, who took the first step? Who started the initiatives?
A: John Hardin: this was a bottom up effort. Consortium in NC was formed organically. His advice: “Just make sure you’re not cannibalizing each other.” Work together and partner together to make things go faster. Top down in the sense that the applications were coordinated. Mainly from universities.
A: April: similar in AR, universities, two HBCUs maybe three, in other parts of the state it was economic development people involved. Regionalism, collaboration, encouraged and fostered.
Q: K: As part of the CHIPS act, we need to make sure that this is a catalyst for private investment and incentivizing collaboration. Not easy asks. What are the biggest hurdles?
A: Dr. Hugh: Spurring conversations that were not happening before. Big challenge is if you think about taking something from concept to commercial product, in my lab the starting point is a rock. We turn the rock into a device. Huge gulf between the end point and the starting point that is acceptable to a company. Bridging that gap is an important thing to address in this context.
A: Craig: when you talk about collaboration especially at this scale, and trust is a key aspect. Hard to think about because you have a bunch of competitors. You have to trust them enough to communicate and collaborate to lift all the boats. There is enough for everybody.
How can you develop something like a uniform credentialing system? It requires honesty. E.g. cybersecurity, solved it by using a device framework. Sitting down together and trusting each other. This leveled the playing field for a lot of people.
A: John Hardin: Another burden or hurdle is culture. Regional tech hubs formed a consortium and EDA had five required components: These organizations must be part, all components must be represented, and these all must play their part. This list leads to some diversity in the types of organizations represented. Each has a different culture. No culture is better than the other but they are all different. Overcoming those differences is not easy. Money certainly helps, and CHIPS will bring money. People will minimize their differences if they can get more money, but in order to create good work, trust has to come along as well, and collaboration and bridges between cultures is required.
A: April: rural areas are frequently left behind. CHIPS act meant that they could trust they were going to get a seat at the table, and they indeed got a seat at the table, and this trust was reinforced.
Q: K: Dr. Hugh, tell us about the impact of quantum tech?
A: Hugh: not going to happen fast enough to have an impact here, with the CHIPS act. There is one outcome of current efforts in quantum, where silicon can win again. It may be the material of choice for quantum computing too.
A: Craig: Going back and re-examining relationships with the underserved groups, and making sure that policy allows for a global participation by people from other countries. In the middle, there is this large group of people “is everyone that wants to be at the table, at the table?” When we look at this, there are effective ways to be able to communicate. There’s things going on that people need to know about and do not know about. No one is going to go out and send someone to 101 HBCUs to let them know of opportunities. Funding for people to participate in training exercises. Not just academic, but credentials. How do people get to school? How do we deal with complex family situations? It’s not just the trainee, but the faculty may need these too. The faculty may be teaching a ton of courses and need to train to be more relevant and keep up. Success level needs to increase.
A: April: Our greatest export is people. We can talk about steel or rice or whatever it is at the moment, but when the best people leave, this is a huge issue. If these investments can keep some of the best people here, then we can begin to get more traction.
A: John Hardin: Research Triangle Park was designed on purpose. Unrelated private land was all brought together to build the park. The reason it was built was to help prevent brain drain out of NC. We had strong universities but we didn’t have the jobs that these university graduates wanted. 1950s it was textiles, tobacco, and furniture. They were beginning to fade out. They had to do something to create jobs for people to take. Otherwise the people were going to leave. If there are no opportunities then the people will leave. CHIPS act may do the same thing for more places.
Q: Audience: Jennifer Fowler (insufficient or collaboration) asks 1) for John, states matching funds for SBIR STTR, how big is the fund? Ours is very small. And only SBIR. How is it filled? A: 2005 established, 36 million over this time, all comes from state appropriations, non-recurring, had to go back every year and make the case. The most it’s ever been funded was $5 million least was $700,000. Forces outside of our control mean different amounts of money were available. Maximize everything we could do, statutorily, then we’d need $24 million to meet all demand, but the legislature is at a stalemate so we don’t know how much we’ll get this year. They get $2 million recurring now. 2) Dr. Scott, you told us a little bit more about your fellowship focused on partnerships, HBCUs over performing with insufficient resources, what are some hallmarks of successful partnerships that. you wish could be replicated in other places?
A: Craig Scott: helping bridge better partnerships: when you look at your steering committees, what are the representations of those boards? Do they really represent underrepresented people? In your planning for workforce development, it is very important when you do your strategic planning, including your DEI goals from the beginning. It’s not an afterthought. American Semiconductor Academy e.g. started before CHIPS. It’s going to get passed one day so let’s start now. Reach out early and don’t wait until the solicitation is due. Start beforehand and put the work in. He thinks there will be a round two of CHIPS. I’m not so sure, but it would be good. Be ready beforehand. ASA reached out to everyone, all the R1s and the HBCUs. What is it that we can do to make you feel more included? Representation on steering and boards is mentioned again.
Q: Becky Taylor from Austin technology incubator, lots of startups, semiconductor related (confusion is her one word to represent CHIPS act) Sounds good, but no idea how to engage. Have any of your orgs given any thought to try to integrate the startup community?
A: John Hardin agrees with the term confusion. Very hard to plug into the CHIPS act. Not intentionally designed to be hard to engage, but you almost had to be a large organization to get any traction. Tech hubs consortia can plug in the startups, but this depends on existing relationships and this is too cozy to compliment.
A: April: it is an issue and I thank you for bringing this up. There are some consortiums that have some luck with startup involvement but overall it’s a missing piece without a good answer at this time.
A: Dr. Hugh: AI, 5G, 6G, Quantum, electronic warfare, the way this program will operate, startups can collaborate with universities and such on proposals, to pursue technologies through hubs. The consortiums are not set in stone, either.
A: Craig: There’s funding for three additional institutions through MUSA and there is space for small and medium sized startups.
A: John Hardin: applications that were due August 15th were phase 1 (not sure of the technologies) strategy development grant, tech hubs, etc. Phase 2 stuff is larger and those opportunities are more likely to be realized if it’s acknowledged that it’s been confusing. (Not sure I follow what he’s trying to say).
A: Becky Taylor: we don’t have grant writers or people on staff to follow some websites. Not unique to this particular act. This is a problem across the board with respect to funding and NSF activity etc.
Q: John from Michigan State University and IEEE (one word is future) question is: how do you actually make semiconductors? About 70% is dry processes. We have to consider building this capacity and thinking about new materials is how we are actually going to lay out stuff and mass produce it economically. We have to understand the processes and those are mass production things. Now at the 2 nm scale. There’s big industries producing it, but they’re focused on existing technologies. Space electronics probably need to mitigate radiation. This hasn’t been brought into the conversation yet. What do people need to know to operate these machines? What are we doing to address this?
A: Craig Scott: This is a serious consideration in the office. Low volume manufacturing with a high mix of technologies. Intel etc. all probably not going to do that. Hopes for new institutes through MUSA… nothing firm here though. He doesn’t know.
A: Dr. Hugh: That’s why my answer was “insufficient”. We gave up on this for 25 years or more and the starting point with low volume facilities is just not going to cut it. It’s going to take so much longer to build this back and the CHIPS act is not going to close this gap magically in a couple years. These are US driven and US IP. We do actually own this and we need to re-establish the middle pieces. Firmly, and well. Who has access to it? Small companies need these proving grounds for their work. Collaboration might help here.
A: Kathy: Packaging and other areas, and chiplets, these things can make workable parts faster. Prototypes turning into reality, trust, collaboration, and system on chips – being able to package together multiple functionalities across all factors, is going to be required. We are asking for very big leaps on some of these innovations.
Q: Walter from Power Electronics says most states aren’t going to get a foundry in their backyard. We have like 3 million people in Arkansas. What areas are other states our size focused on?
A: John Hardin: NC has 10 million people. We do have the potential for a foundry. That part of the CHIPS act, the semiconductor part, is something we are going after pretty hard. The regional tech hubs – we are going after this. None of the other categories are semiconductor related. We’re strong there already so the CHIPS act is more about building up the non-semiconductor.
Q: April: OK and NM there is not a lot of interest. LA is going after some pretty hard, so is TX. LA is sort of like AR and there’s a lot going on there for funding in the tech hub designation. Not seen a lot of that from OK and NM.
A: John Hardin: South Carolina has about 3 million people and they had a single application, came together around Advanced Energy, and applied for a tech hub.
IWRC2023 Breakout Session 3pm Thursday “Innovation & Intellectual Property”
Moderator: Becky Taylor, Austin Technology Incubator, interim director
Neil Merrett, Air Force Research Lab
Matt Schanz, Frost Brown Todd LLP
Luna Acosta, Arkansas State University
Weston Waldo, Austin Technology Incubator
Suppose you’re a researcher at a university and you’ve come up with something patentable. You face a decision: am I content to sit back and collect occasional royalty checks, or do I go start my own company and try to turn the invention into a big pile of money?
Q: Please introduce yourself, and say at what point you think an inventor should start to think about getting patent protection and what should they do about it?
Matt Schanz is an attorney working in the field of patent, trademark, and intellectual property law for a big law firm. He says to start thinking pretty early. A patent itself doesn’t generate revenue; it’s all expenses. Think about how the invention can be used to actually make something. Often, that means collaboration with other people and companies with different areas of expertise. For example, he knows of a case where an inventor worked with someone expert in the relevant industry, and they were able to find companies to license the invention at mutually-acceptable rates. The inventor was able to just sit back and cash the royalty checks. This is great, right?
Neil Merrett is at the Air Force Research Laboratory, physicist from Alabama. After grad school he worked with a startup in semiconductors. At the Air Force Research Laboratory, he often works with businesses through SBIR and STTR grants. University professors often start their own small business just to interact with SBIR programs, and that’s good. The military actually wants you to commercialize your product, so they can buy it. In most cases, military needs are not enough to sustain a product on the market.
Neil says the inventor should start thinking about patents very early. But they shouldn’t publish too soon, that might cause problems for the patent! Consult with a patent attorney. Consider whether the invention might be better treated as a trade secret instead of patented.
Luna Acosta is Director of Technology Transfer at Arkansas State University, and Director of the Catalyst Innovation Center at the Arkansas Biosciences Institute. She takes a holistic view of the four phases of the “innovation life cycle”: ideation, protection, development, and commercialization. The purpose is to get the next generation of things out into the world. In the United States, our culture of innovation, propelled by universities and companies, is why we are the number one economy in the world. “Talk to me BEFORE you have an invention.”
Weston Waldo is the director and program manager at the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas at Austin, and the NSF I-Corps Southwest Region Hubs program.
Weston says the inventor should ask whether they have a business that’s worth pursuing around their innovation. Begin thinking about patent protection at the earliest stage possible.
Q: What about issues of trust when adding outsiders to the innovation team?
Matt says trust is critical. Build and maintain relationships for the long term.
Neil suggests getting a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in place before discussing the innovation with anyone. He says “this helps to build trust.” Federal employees are not allowed to sign an NDA, but they are also not allowed to disclose your confidential information without your permission.
Becky interjects that you need to develop the confidence to describe your work in a non-confidential way, because some people (startups?) can’t sign an NDA either.
Luna says to tell her your dreams (such as publishing early) and we can find a way to make it work. Also: “I have templates!” Work with your technology transfer people. Companies can often offer other ways to collaborate that might suit you well. After all, if the company doesn’t grow or there are no royalties, that’s not good!
Weston says the higher the degree of trust, the faster you can move. You might worry that you don’t deserve a seat at the table (with smart technology transfer people) but you shouldn’t. Find out about who is good to work with (or not) by word of mouth recommendations.
Q: So you’re a researcher, and you’ve already disclosed your invention to your university, and you decide that you want to form a startup to use the invention. Now what? Should you incorporate? Should you get all your grad students to sign employment agreements?
Matt says you should look for collaborators.
Luna says, “Yay startups!”. We (the technology transfer people) will take you even if it’s later rather than sooner. You can’t do it by yourself.
Q: What if you’re a business person? You find out about an invention and you want to license it.
Weston says universities have way more good ideas than people who can turn an idea into a business. At UT we have a web site that lists all the IP that’s available for licensing, with non-confidential summaries. You may find one there that matches your expertise and can help your business or help you make a new one.
Luna says, “We like sponsored research.” Come to us and propose sponsored research. Also note that inventorship is a thing, different from authorship.
Matt agrees, inventorship and academic authorship are different. Consult a patent attorney. We know where things can go wrong. That might be our most important skill.
Becky suggests that if you’re a business and you need good ideas in your subject area, but don’t know what specific ideas you might need, consider attending conferences on that subject. Say, IEEE conferences, or events at your local university.
Q: Technology transfer is hard. There are always three parties: a business, an inventor, and their university. Which order?
Luna says it’s chicken-and-egg. The technology transfer people just want the inventions to get out into the world.
Matt says that revenue is important, but it’s not the only thing. Know what you want to get out of your invention. Maybe academic publication is more important to you than revenue maximization.
Luna says it’s a long term relationship. You might not see payout anytime soon. Think of it as a marriage.
Weston says that if the faculty member and their students go off to form a company, they end up in a whole different kind of negotiation with the university.
Q: The process is all wrapped up in human nature and human behavior. Among the multiple players in the university situation, everybody has some feeling of ownership of the innovation. Can you describe a scenario where feelings of ownership led to conflict?
Weston says that if you don’t know the ropes, you can get into catastrophic failure scenarios. Know what you want. A cookie-cutter approach might not work for every situation. Think about what’s fair, and what success would look like, to avoid catastrophe.
Neil says tension can arise in the distinction between inventorship and authorship. As a surprising example, a patent can even be invalidated if it’s found that there’s a named inventor on the patent who wasn’t actually involved in creating the invention. Negotiate with your team members and make a (legal) agreement about how you’re going to allocate inventorship and royalties on any patents that may arise.
Luna points out that if you’re faculty at a university or an employee at a company, you may well already be under contract concerning rights to your inventions. Know and understand what you’ve already agreed to.
Matt describes a situation where a patent was licensed from Purdue. The details were worked out, and the technology was licensed to appropriate vertically-integrated businesses. This has led to success in some areas, and hope exists for success in others. They were able to apply the basic technology in a variety of production spaces.
Luna says it has only been 20 years since the founding of the Biosciences Center. That’s early days in that field. One case is looking successful, but money isn’t pouring in yet. Just creating some startups that have survived so far is a success.
Q: When should you get a patent and when should you rely on trade secret protection?
Panel: You need to have the implementation details worked out (if not actually tested) before you can get a patent. You need to be able to detect if a product uses your invention before you can claim patent infringement. And, you need to have the resources to litigate to enforce your patent. If you can’t meet all these needs, maybe trade secret would be better. As always, consult an IP attorney.
IWRC2023 Breakout Session: “The Good, The Bad, and the Money”
No photography or recording allowed in this session due to the nature of the participants.
Russ Harrison, managing director of IEEE USA, is moderating. There were some changes to the panel due to the flu and a mechanical issue with United Airlines.
Notes were ok to take during this session.
IEEE hosts about 2100 conferences a year. Innovation is about partnerships. No one succeeds by themselves. When we started working with EPSCoR and this particular event, this session was the first thing that they thought of. Government – university – industry partnerships and what it takes. Help you and us figure out how to work with people that may not be like us.
That’s what this panel is about – people in the partnership business. Figure out how we can do this stuff better.
Dr. Zeeshan Habeeb, UAPB biocompatible materials, and is a leader in culturally appropriate science communication.
Benito Lubazibwa, CEO Remix Ideas, director of advanced Black entrepreneurship, helping people succeed.
Todd Paulson, needipedia invites collaborations with defense intelligence agency
Bruce Edwards, 38 years experience government side, moved to small business DIA recently, needipedia.
Q: Russ: what barriers do you face when you try to start partnerships outside of your sphere?
A: Bruce: the biggest impediments are FAR/DFAR, and that the conversations are secure and so that everyone is protected. Security is a difficult thing, and those are the barriers. Since it’s in the context of a procurement, even a grant has to be controlled. Past the security point, past the paperwork point, what he’s noticed is that the primary barrier is balancing the security between all the people that are part of the mission, balancing the mission objectives are needed, against the needs of the partners, like academia who must publish, and the industry partner that needs to sell a product. Mission implies that there is something that can be published or sold. Contracts that articulate what and when given all these constraints are hard to write.
A: Dr. UAPB: the academic point of view and amongst all three the academic is the most unstructured work environment that there is. What drives us? Tenured promotion. Academia recognizes certain things, research measured by published work, teaching measured by student evaluations, and public service and community service, which is measured by activities and records. Easiest ways to make partners is to find people at the similar stage of career. People understood what was what, and could better partner. Partnering with nonprofits is challenging, e.g. because NSF Convergence Accelerator grants require addressing food insecurity, and requires partnerships of this type, finding the trust here can be hard. People are already overwhelmed and are after action and impact, and can’t slow down very much to do “research”. Communication is crucial. Communicating about science is rarely done well.
CEO Remix: focus is on supporting Black entrepreneurs. Systemic barriers are significant, and this is the number one challenge. There is a lot of mistrust. A feeling that you don’t belong or are not welcome. 1) Values to values, aligned with mission? Entrepreneurial ecosystem that is equitable and just. 2) How are you going to form the collaboration and what will it look like? You can ask other questions, but this is the central question. Orgs sometimes want to collaborate just to say they are working with a Black empowerment organization. There’s no substance to the proposal. There isn’t any delivered value.
Todd Paulson: there’s barriers not just between DIA and small businesses, but there are also barriers internally. At least within the intelligence community (IC) it is very stovepiped. People do not talk to each other about their programs. The programs may be classified. You might sit next to them and have the same clearances, but cannot talk to them. This becomes a habit. It’s hard to get them to talk about requirements and needs, and it’s even harder for an outside entity to talk to the end users. We are the face to industry and it’s our job to find the new directions and provide advice and advocacy for small businesses. After doing contracting for so long, and then coming into the small business office, it was a good fit. Meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays and guest speakers and try to build some communications. Programs to help industry where we’re coming from, and also allow you to tell us what you’re good at.
Q: Russ: what are the other internal constraints when you try and work with partners outside of your world, what are your concerns? First problems?
A: Dr. UAPB: bandwidth. Can I handle yet another massive amount of work to communicate and collaborate on yet another project? Restrictions on time and resources are serious and severe. Delegate, hire people, advocate how good these things are for students. Internally, sometimes our internal mechanisms need more time to work through.
A: CEO Remix: There is an African saying, if you want to travel fast, travel alone, if you want to travel far, travel together. Everything has to be we, and not me. Think as “we”. How can you disrupt intergenerational poverty in the Black community? Inception to Invitation is a progression of ideas. That process needs a village and collaboration.
A: Bruce: you can’t just walk over and surprise someone. Issues also related to funding. There are a bunch of different flavors of money. Most of our officers are afraid to talk to you. They will not pick up the phone and talk to you. They have to get approval to talk to you. You hear radio silence from us, but we need you to get things done. Look for the ways the government is trying to solve the problem of trying to talk to you. Asking for a 2 page white paper? That is a good thing for you to do. Look for Broad Agency Announcements. Look for those and respond to them. These mechanisms allow us to DARPA our way to starting a conversation that can end in procurement. Once that paper gets a serial number we can start a two-way conversation. Especially after it gets a serial number. We have to do a kabuki dance to even be able to talk to you. Now I can talk to you a little bit about the mission. And then it progresses. The conversation scales with government interest and ratchets up through a procurement ladder, supported by documented contacts. That radio silence is in your interest. As long as you have submitted something, and there’s no answer, that means we’re still talking about it. You send something in, like a white paper or proposal. That conversation internal to the government is something you never see. If you get back an answer of no current interest, then the conversation is over. Radio silence means the conversation is still ongoing. Any forward facing website or email exposed means you can contact them whenever you want. They may not be able to answer right away. They may ask you to back up and go into some other process. If you are a small business, and you email someone, then it may be rerouted to get the proper serial number. These processes may not be obvious or visible before you try and reach out.
A: Todd Paulson explains Intelligence Community (IC). DHS is part of it, but also does other things. There’s something of a Venn diagram. What the small businesses are facing in challenges dealing with the DIA is that 1) getting a facility clearance. In order to sell hardware or software, you may not need one. If you are providing services then you need a clearance to get a contract. You won’t get a contract without this clearance. Going through another contractor that has the contractor or has this facility clearance, then they can sponsor you. That’s the easiest and most direct way to get a facility clearance. This is the biggest challenge in working with the IC. If you see an announcement that comes out on SAM. An RFI or solicitation, you have to respond to that. Answer it. If you don’t respond, we won’t know you are there. If we don’t know you are there then we cannot direct the acquisition.
If you win a contract, then perform the contract. “Ok we won the contract! What do we do now!” This is not ok. This is a failure.
Statements of Work and Planning Documents are crucial for the proposals. They are distinct documents. They are not the same thing.
Q: ORI: how best to collaborate and share the value of open source hardware and software with you all?
A: GitHub, and if the design has been beat up on, and if the license allows it, we will use it. We might not let you know we’re using it, and might not be able to participate in your open process, but we’re there, and we use a lot of open source work. Comment every line. We have to do a code review to use it and anything that you can do to make this easier and quicker is of direct benefit.
Q: Russ: building partnerships in your fields, the first interaction with another group that really worked, what did they do right to make things work really well?
A: CEO Remix: two years ago, I was thinking about innovative loan financing, because access to capital is a big challenge for Black entrepreneurs. Lack of access to good credit, lots of reasons, some of them systemic. How can we solve this problem? We need to find another way to get access to capital. He described a specific example to illustrate how their loan financing model got off the ground. We just looked at the business model and the ability of the person to execute, and he found a funding source to collaborate with, and the financial institution was very excited and respectful. There was trust. Coming together and working hard, Remix and financial institutions raised a large amount of money, and so far, no one has defaulted. Your past relationship with money doesn’t determine your future success. Bankruptcy doesn’t matter. There are always reasons and humans behind the numbers and the stats. A lot of these numbers and stats are biased, anyway, and don’t tell the whole story. Working in the Delta, same deal – access to capital is the biggest challenge. You pay us back when you make money. Like, with farmers, it’s cyclic and seasonal and dynamic. Loan is paid back when they make money. The fact that this is considered innovative and not commonly done is uncomfortable. It just makes sense. Values aligned to values, and trust, and what kind of impact can we make. That is how we are innovating our way to successful outcomes with underrepresented people.
A: Dr. UAPB: Convergence accelerator – all teams applying were going to need experts from different disciplines and when you think of food security do you think of a chemist? Probably not. But food literacy work turned out to need educators that had a variety of backgrounds. These are disciplines that we don’t normally work together, and we are in completely different buildings. But now we see each other more often than the people we sit next to. How do we keep a group like this together? This is where the trust building comes in. You have to be clear about your goals and how we are going to handle challenges. Things are not going to go as expected. We have to have some leaders and leaders have to keep earning trust. Things are valued, but actions may not be able to be taken right away. Trust holds things together through the hard work of interdisciplinary efforts.
Q: Russ: how little communication there are within institutions – this is something that people really don’t know, or don’t remember. People assume that just because you are talking to one person in an organization, that you are talking to all of them. Do not assume this. Sometimes, communication within an organization is not happening at all.
A: Todd: Collaborate? With spies??! We increase the probability of success by planning an increase of the collision frequency of your innovation. Heat and containment can be used as a model. The best friend that you have in planning is the map of where you think the nodes of your success might be. Who owns the budget? It might be your five eyes partners. Doing the mechanism of the partnership – it has to be planned out and it has to be recognized. Planning out the engagement increases the collision frequency, which increases the probability of innovation. Design a space where they all have to go get lunch in the same place. Design the mechanisms of innovation. Highlights the advantages of smaller vs. larger companies. Design in ways to increase collisions of the people that need to talk to each other.
Q: audience: institutional or inter-organizational logics – entrenched beliefs and practices and societal values. E.g. capitalism, wealth builds on wealth and therefore systemic barriers and generational wealth creates unequal opportunities. Academia, at the beginning, policies around promotion may prevent collaboration and cooperation. Non-tenure track faculty is speaking from the floor, but she has a real promotion pathway at her work. Because she has a different promotion focus, she does not have the same focus on publications, and promotions can be based on cooperation and impact and other metrics. It changes the norms. This enables her to do what she is doing. It’s different. We’re trying to push more positions like this.
A: CEO Remix: business model financing <== explained before; everything that we do includes the people that are facing the problem. The people involved are involved in solving the problem. The people facing the problem have to be at the table in order to solve the problem. The customers have to be at the table. They are then co-creators of the ideas. The ideas are of higher quality when you do this.
A: Bruce: the thing that really makes the difference: communication. Good communicators drive everything else. If this isn’t happening, then the probability of success is greatly diminished. When an RFI is put out, do companies respond? Once we do this source selection, and do a debrief, he went the extra mile to communicate why the contract might have been declined or the company passed over. A form letter doesn’t help the company at all. In all the years he did this, he got one protest. The mindset of a typical office or organization, especially in one that is inherently security focused or secrecy focused, prevents this because there’s a minimization of information in the IC and the default is to not communicate details. Utilize things like APEX and SBA PCRs. They can be super helpful. CMMC certification was mentioned. OSD has Project Spectrum, which is funded by OSD, to help small businesses get certification. Utilize them. Project spectrum will help people in the room. DIA.mil homepage there’s three bars in the left hand corner, including a small business office. Until this conference, Todd and I didn’t know each other. Now we do.
A: AR APEX Accelerator (audience) explains that they have offices around the state. We help Arkansas businesses sell to the government. SBIR and STTR assistance. We are here to support you and work with others like SBA, Remix.
Q: Jennifer Fowler: learning about the defense world, since most experience in NSF. These clearances and security issues, I have realized that a lot of defense work requires US citizenship.
A: Todd: Not always.
Q: Jennifer Fowler: take semiconductors. Graduates etc. have to be US Citizens. I’m trying to reconcile this with the people that come here and face a really long wait to become US citizens. What is your experience with this being a barrier? Are you talking about how we can bridge the gap between foreign people?
A: Todd Paulson: we will steal talent from anywhere. If they’re smart and on the other side of the planet we will take them. We are in a special category in IC though. DoD they have more limits. There’s a misconception about this. You do not necessarily need to be a US citizen. Last project was mostly foreign. Closer to classified information, means more scrutiny. The contract might give them a path to citizenship. It’s a strategic thing. It’s our mission to partner with anyone we can. We have friends and people we have issues with do not. Anyone can send a white paper to needipeDIA from anywhere. We will figure a way out.
A: Russ: is shocked at the answer. Happily shocked.
A: Jennifer: There’s enough tangible examples of foreign people from being rejected to make this a problem.
A: Dr. UAPB I’m restricted from some things. And have to ask first. It’s easier to say no than yes, and the answer varies because it’s not a great system we have. The regulations are not clear, they are not black and white, and it’s up to interpretation.
A: CEO Remix: traveling to different countries it is clear that the US welcomes ideas. Very successful because of welcoming ideas and embracing different ideas. There are still systemic challenges. But there is no country out there in the world that does it quite the same. If you’re smart you’re welcome.
Q: audience: students would go to where they are meeting different companies and ask do you hire international students and the answer is no. Hearing that over and over – how do you move beyond that. No reason given when told no.
Q: audience: ditto.
A: Russ: it depends on who you are asking. The rules may vary hugely. When you talk to one person, you haven’t talked to the agency.
Q: audience: I used to work in career services – the number of students being lost before even getting to apply is so sad. We are losing so much good talent. It’s systemic. Almost no companies will take international students.
A: Jennifer: I confronted WalMart and they said they would sponsor international students. Enough people have been told no that people stop asking. Then WalMart says they will accept international students. It’s very frustrating.
A: Russ: the immigration is a complete mess. It’s super hard. The more smart people we can get to come here and stay the better.
A: Bruce: DoD has recognized that there is a shortage of small businesses. Along with the Secretary of the Navy. Since 2015 the defense industrial base has decreased by 40%. There are a lot leaving. There are a lot of reasons why. There’s been a huge reduction in small businesses participating in the industrial base. Small businesses drive the economy and innovation and the defense of this country. Don’t give up. Please pursue it.
Q: Audience: do you ever work with OTAs? Everything has to work within FAR and DFAR for DIA.
A: Bruce: Yes, but not widely used. DIA has identified a contracting officer that has gone out and got the authority to issue OTAs. It’s an avenue that they need to pursue. This was recognized and there is much more flexibility now than before.
Q: audience: how are clearances coordinated? Organizations have not in the past acknowledged clearances. Where does DIA stand in this realm?
A: Bruce: “It depends”, which is the answer to all good questions. For employment, there’s no reciprocity. You have to redo it all the time. A visit doesn’t count. Agency badges and an IC wide badge, but this is for visitation purposes, not employment. You have to go through the whole accreditation process again. They do not trust each other. There may not ever be a resolution on this one.
Q: Russ: If someone wants to start. They’ve never worked with you all before. What’s the first thing that they should do?
A: Dr UAPB: Just Start. Find the people. Just do it. “You get good at something by doing it” The end goal is worth it.
A: CEO Remix: find the problem! Know the difference between a painkiller and a vitamin.
A: Bruce: Dealing with the federal government is not easy. There is reward in the end. To start with, read SAM.gov. Register. Stay on top of announcements. Answer the mail. You’ll never see the set asides. Talk to APEX.
A: Todd: Be brilliant at the basics. Accounting – use the standards. A good accounting system lets you submit a proposal to the government. Be brilliant at regulations. It’s a numbers game. One proposal – repurpose it and submit again. Those proposals are not nothing. Just completing a proposal gives you lots of materials ready to go. Difficult but very rewarding. Don’t completely rely on funding from the government for your business plan. Once you start to make a profit throw some feelers out. We have the ability to literally kill a small business. Get a number, get a cage code number, and look for announcements. Run a tight security ship. Adhere to a standard. Even if you never do anything with the government, the DCA standards help you! Build your business to be able to work without you.
A: Amanda: from audience, answers same question – contact APEX.
Russ thanks the panel.
IWRC2023 Day 2
Erwin Gianchandani TIP NSF, on Zoom (University of Virginia, biotech background, award winner)
Introduced by Jennifer Fowler
JD Swanson moderates the talk with Erwin, who apologizes for not being here in person. There are budget meetings that interfere. Erwin asks if he can get a camera pointing out to the room to see us and Jennifer attends to that while JD enthusiastically dives in and asks Erwin questions.
Q: JD: you’ve been at the NSF for 10 years. We see the agency from different directions. JD program management and Erwin at the “AD” level. How has the CHIPS act impacted the agency?
A: Erwin: 11 years next week at the foundation in a variety of different roles, and now head of the new TIP directorate. If you have an interest in working at NSF it is a fabulous place to work. We could always use more talent to come work behind the curtain, so to speak. Where and how we should be investing, etc. Notwithstanding all the drama you hear in the news and the budget crisis (impending shutdown) he cannot recall a time in the last 2-3 years where things have been better. The past 2-3 years have seen the run up to the CHIPS and science act, which got 64 votes. We had Congress really keen on something like this in a bipartisan way, and a Director with a real focus on broad participation all across the country local-level place-based activity. The moment in time that we’re living in today, the first time in 32 years that NSF has stood up a new directorate, is a great one. This positive spirit largely stems from where the scientific community is today, compared to the past. Key technology areas, competition, and geo-strategic challenges are all things that the NSF is dealing with today. There are a lot of challenges. The US is combating climate changes and trying to improve equitable access to education and technology. The scientific ecosystem is evolving before our very eyes. Regardless of the discipline. Being able to extract value from data in new ways that were not possible before is a fundamental shift that we need to pay more attention to. Today’s students look different than before the pandemic. People have seen what science and technology do and want to extend this power and success. There’s been a transition from 25% PhDs going into industry to 75% PhDs going into industry. The Director’s priority of “creating opportunity anywhere” is real. It’s had a profound and positive impact on the agency. It’s a transitional moment that we are all living through and a lot of positive good can happen. This is a “behind the curtain” soliloquy, about a very exciting time for the NSF.
Q: Jennifer: Speaking more about the TIP directorate and the CHIPS act, and the impact on the agency, now we have the ENGINES program and the ART program – what is next? There’s a lot more stuff in the legislation, what’s the most exciting to you, what’s keeping you up at night, what’s giving you heartburn, about TIP?
A: Erwin: what gives him heartburn is that there are two sides to every coin. So, we have use-inspired and translational research, we are the agency that piloted SBIR/STTR, first agency with ICOR program that allowed us to provide entrepreneurial education for lab to market and customer discovery stuff, so it’s not the case that we haven’t invested in translational research, but anytime you do something new, there’s a lot of skepticism. Can you deliver? Is it moving us too far afield from the NSF’s mission? We are the only agency in the federal government that supports basic research. Over the last year and a half, I’ve done a lot of evangelizing about TIP. Here is an illustrative store. I had two groups in back to back meetings. The first group asked some questions that were polite, and in a polite way, but said what you’re doing is moving NSF too far away from the basic mission of basic research. Next half hour meeting, with a different group, went the same way with a presentation and then a discussion, and at the end, they said you know NSF can’t move fast enough to move something like this. It is too wired around basic research to adapt like this. It would be great if those two groups could talk to each other and find some common ground. Maybe this means we’re doing something right, by threading the needle in how we’re launching TIP and doing translational research. TIP has a very modest budget and pretty much was a bunch of stuff merged together. 2023 was the single largest increase in the NSF’s history of 1.1 Billion, but TIP didn’t get anywhere close to all of this. Concerns of the folks in the community somewhat keep him up at night. This is a virtuous cycle. TIP can contribute to future success but this determination is still in the future. Excited about the ENGINES and ART program, and the EXCELLENT program.
How do we help people pivot from where they are to being able to work in a new space? The response from the community is key in whether or not this is successful. What’s next? We’re using the CHIPS and Science act as a playbook. Section 10.3.1 establishes Directorate and through 10.3.9 lays things out. We’re just following this and trying to do pilots. We want to do pilots that let us test out our approaches, get feedback from the community, then scale the pilots to have impact for the nation. We’re trying to do the engines at scale today. ART and EXCELLENT are trying to get to a place where they are scalable, today. Translation Accelerator is another one, working with researchers to identify directions that are more viable for commercial and societal impact. Wireless testbeds, for example, distributed across the nation to enable next generation wireless protocols. Experimentation with those – building out partnerships.
We could do a better job of preparing our talent for academic and industry practice, through practical experience, for example. Those are the things that are top of line for us. We’ll do pilots and activities that are very much in line with trying to follow the CHIPS act playbook.
A: Jennifer: one of the things I’ve had to do about communicating the CHIPS act is the difference between authorization and appropriation. A lot of that money doesn’t go to internal operations at the NSF.
A: Erwin: Yes, absolutely, fundamental differences here. CHIPS and Science is billed at 200 billion – biggest increase for NSF ever, up to 80 billion at NSF over next 5 years. But if you add up the numbers, you will get 200 billion, but not all of that has been appropriated. 50 billion going to commerce for new fabs. 150 Billion left is authorized but Congress has yet to appropriate the money. And, Congress might not move forward. The vision of CHIPS and science is going to take resources and those resources have to come from Congress over time. 94% of the funding at NSF goes out the door at NSF. It’s a very lean agency. This is problematic when you are trying to start something new. There’s a big lift to recruit folks and get them in the organization, so they can run these programs. We need to fill these positions.
Q: JD: We’ve talked about ecosystems. The key to their success is in the concept of partnerships. We’ve done some work across EPSCoR, but I see a very small piece. To the folks in this room (not sure how to state his question but it seemed to be about universities).
A: Erwin: when we think about partnerships we think about them in two forms, direct ones that NSF enters into, and trying to partner with industry, non-profits, agencies. We do those partnerships because it allows us to inject into our own thinking valuable points of view. We only have so many dollars, and being able to leverage resources or in kind contributions, this means that we stretch the money a lot further. Then there are the partnerships that NSF catalyzes. The money creates opportunities for groups and organizations to work together. Further enhancements to the research. The industry – university program IUCRC is an example. This is not in TIP – IUCRC has been around for 40 years.
This lets PIs and students build partnerships with local industry. In this spirit of catalyzing partnerships, it is absolutely the case that we want to see the investments from TIP drive different types of partnerships. A lot of what NSF has done historically is to fund “great” research and ultimately we push this out into society and the market. This has had great impact. But, given the moment in time that we are in today, with diverse challenges and technologies and local-level issues surfacing, climate change for example is different threats in different places, thus this is about bringing together the users, practitioners, with the researchers, and co-create and co-pilot solutions. Expand “great new ideas” pushed to society, but let’s include society more in order to improve the research. Depending on the research area and the topic, we can imagine partnerships across the spectrum. We want to see results of the research affecting things on the ground. Non-profits, philanthropic organizations, etc. Define shape and collaborate on the shape of the research agenda. For TIP to be successful it cannot be its own unit off in the corner. We have to build partnerships internally within NSF too. One of the things I’m proud of is that if you talk to my colleagues, many people will say that TIP in its first year has found ways to creatively partner with all the other directorates. E.g. between bio and the TIP. Computer science, math, physical science, etc. (echoes the advice we heard yesterday about not assuming people within an organization talk to each other). We do all these partnerships externally, but we also have to do a great job internally too.
Q: Jennifer: We talked about the EDA tech hubs programs yesterday quite a bit. There’s been a lot of interesting dialogue as to whether or not engines are in competition with tech hubs? Should they be competing? Collaborating? What do you think about the EDA announcements? Partnership with EDA in administering the tech hubs. We are trying to figure out exactly what to do and how to navigate through these two solicitations.
A: Erwin: great question – EDA from Commerce, and modeling behaviors, and encouraging the broader community, and to work collaboratively and be synergistic. Even before we put out an ENGINES funding opportunity, for months before we had been having conversations with (he interrupts himself to explain the difference in philosophy between EDA and NSF in terms of appropriation and authorization) between EDA and NSF. These conversations are recurring and productive. Erwin says this is new and welcomes evolution in the way government agencies work together. Collaborating between EDA and tech hubs is happening. Purdue University has a team working on metrics that will best measure success and milestones. Both entities are funding this group. Erwin makes efforts to reassure the audience that this is not a bad idea. I say all of this to emphasize that the collaboration has never been this good. Something has changed. TIP and EDA have signed an MOU to share information because this is helpful. Giving the community consistent feedback is important. We shouldn’t be giving widely divergent messages to the community. This is actually very good news. They are supposed to be synergistic. It’s a spectrum from use-inspired research all the way to workforce development. EDA is further down the spectrum and overlaps. Sometimes overlap in Washington is bad, but in this case it is working out well. Depending how you scope a tech hub (supposed to be 10 across the country, and EDA is working this) our hope is to fund more than 10 innovation Engines. They are smaller investments individually, so more of them makes sense. Maybe multiple engines serve each tech hub that covers a larger geography. Use-inspired and translational research is directly supported by the innovation engines, and this feeds into the tech hubs, which are not as close to the research. This is supposed to be a meaningful and thoughtful collaboration between NSF and Commerce. We are trying. We welcome feedback on what we can do or say to clarify the symbiosis that we hope to see here.
Q: Jennifer: From the audience, when we get solicitations, they are so broad. Could you talk about the review process and lessons learned? Academic dominated review panels. Academics really struggle to form partnerships and get collaborators. If it should be led by industry, then how are the review panels going to be built to make this work better for industry?
A: Erwin: what are we finding? We are learning as we go, no doubt about that. We have a terrific team with a good background that can run the competition and can make decisions about the proposals. But, as we go through this process we are going to learn by doing it, what’s working, what’s not working. What can we be more precise about, so we can improve effectiveness, and so you all can be more responsive to the funding opportunities. Later this year, we’ll review the review process. And, communicate what we saw and what will be changed. How do we broaden the tent? NSF is very focused on the academic community and the academic community relies on NSF. This has to change. We want to open things up appreciably here in terms of trying to deliberate about wanting engines to be real ecosystems from different sectors. The academic doesn’t have to be the lead. Barriers need to be broken down. In certain fields there are challenges with faculty time, and resources. How do you create appointments that span academic and industrial interests and communities? Who retains the IP? ENGINES proposals are asking for this sort of thing. Multidisciplinary and multi-sector things need to be reviewed by people that look like these teams. Our team has worked really hard to do this outreach to state and tribal and industry and venture and fortune 100. Yes, he did say non-profits earlier, and he reiterates that academia has to be at the table. There is always room for improvement, but “we’re trying very hard” and “we are doing much better than people expect”. It’s not as diverse a review panel as we would like.
Q: Jennifer: what are the NSF’s goals for diversity equity and inclusion? Dr. Chuck Barber (from AR) and his team? (He’s been in executive leadership at NSF for 8 months) Any collaboration there? How workforce development is handled with broadened participation?
A: Erwin: Dr. Barber is doing great and working hard. We view the notion of trying to be able to create opportunity everywhere is ingrained into how we think and everything we do. We publish all the concepts of ENGINES and this was based on diverse institutions conversing with us. We wanted to hear from diverse institutions and find out what their pain points were in engaging with NSF and participating in programs. Hearing that and translating that back into the design, and publishing the design concepts so everyone could see the ideas and feel like the opportunity was accessible. By publishing the concept outlines we are creating a more level playing field. This shouldn’t be a competition in every region. It’s about bringing people together. We’d rather see one proposal that includes people than a bunch of proposals all competing against each other. E.g. cybersecurity as an afterthought vs. cybersecurity designed in from the beginning. Diversity and equity needs to be designed in from the start, not an afterthought. (Louder for people in the back doing amateur radio grants in the worst possible way). Being so focused on silicon valley – how do we get more focus on other parts of the country that have excellent people and resources? TIP directorate and EPSCoR is directly addressing this.
This was an excellent conversation.
IWRC2023 Advancing Equitable Access to Food and Health Technologies in the Delta
Joe Thompson, President and CEO, ACHI, Profession UAMS Colleges of Medicine and public Health
PI of the only engines award in AR (Type 1)
Arkansas Center for Health Improvement ACHI
First public presentation after the award. Status report on where we are. ACHI has been around for 25 years. Catalysts make things happen without getting burned up in the process. This is sometimes harder than it looks. ACHI does a lot in the background and has been very effective. As stated, the engines program fosters the development of innovative ecosystems. Inclusive economic growth.
AI: find out more about the regional engines that we can be part of.
Deliverables are to submit something that leads to a type 2 award. Nascent, Emergent, Growth are the three phases in Type 2. With partners the grant grows the ecosystem of research capacity.
How did we get a Type 1 grant? What are we doing?
Two months put together a descriptive grant. This grant was written to try and solve problems in some of the harshest health environments in the US. The Delta has serious health and equity challenges. Yes, we have vibrant places in the South, but three states share a burden and challenge with the lower MS river delta. Economic vibrancy in the past was built on racism, pure and simple. ArkLaMiss proposal ideas came out of, in part, lessons learned from the pandemic. The pandemic affected all of us, but vulnerable communities were affected much more harshly. We walk through the grant application. First, if we can do in-home testing for covid, what else can we do? Move the tests to the home. Two, more effective methods to get fresh foods to people. Food deserts exist in this area. In some places it is a 60 mile round trip to go to the grocery store. Mobility issues and disabilities and gas prices all make it nearly impossible. Telehealth is the third part. Jennifer Fowler was key in helping with this grant (Marta had a significant role here I believe). Partners listed (at least six). Diverse partnership. Target is the alluvial plain, which spans three states. We now need to identify partners that want to help. Pair those communities and those innovators to figure out how to fix the problems and do real work. Identifying individuals that want to help us (flyer on table today) is going on right now. You can get in the loop and help create the clusters. There’s a list of partners and this is an un-blazed path right through some very hard work. Any and all assistance is deeply appreciated. Coming up at the end of October there’s a symposium on 25 October (Central Arkansas Symposium) and 2 November (Northwest Arkansas Symposium). He ended with a very firm statement about the failures of our healthcare system to perform adequately. This was a clear call to action from someone that understands the assignment.
Q: Matt Francis: I’m a councilman in a small town, and with your partnerships, please consider using the AR municipal league. There’s lots of challenges in small communities, and there’s not very many knobs to turn with healthcare. This is so hugely needed. However I can help connect you into that I will.
A: Dr. Thompson: if we can get it right in the lower MS delta, it’s transferable to 35 other regions. This is a threat to the nation, not just to the region. There’s substantial benefits here and involvement
Q: :Meredith Atkins U of A: “last mile” innovation solutions are usually solutions that are meant for big orgs, but co-developed innovation that can actually be built within communities, how can that play a role in this engine? In other words, AI may not matter much here. We don’t need complex solutions that we can’t afford to deploy.
A: Dr. Thompson: Our capitalist system works against rural America. Grocery stores markup rural delivery and they only go because of volume, once every two weeks. Automatically the system is biased against the same opportunities for rural America. If we count on the traditional investment strategy we will not find the solutions. There has to be a better way and we have to find it.
Q: Jennifer: could you share your experiences with your coalition? The collaboration, described?
A: Dr. Thompson: (@JoeThompsonMD, @ACHI_net, ACHI.net) there are two things that we are being challenged by. The six orgs that I put up had never worked together before, despite working in the same space. Forming and storming phases are in. Each org has a different perspective. We are trying to adopt a new NSF vision that has never been seen before. We are actually trying to do something that has not been done before, underneath something that has not been done before. Team may change and adapt and we are prepared to engage with the 35 other orgs that we need in order to be successful. We need to get people out of their current way of thinking. It’s new and different. Not about getting another clinic, getting another pharmacy, saving a hospital. It’s getting outside of the box of survival and into an innovation space of “what if”. We have to get the right people in the room. We need an advisory group of just high school students, for example. We need to include people that are great and innovative and successful and we need to include them. This is hard. It’s hard in multiple dimensions. Most of this tuff that has been done is in the opposite direction.
Q: Joe director of workforce training in Helena at the university: our hospital has only 100 beds and only operates an ER at this time. Rumored to be closing soon. This is a huge problem. 10,000 in Helena and 24,000 in the county and now it’s way farther to a hospital.
A: Dr. Thompson: yes this is a huge problem and there’s serious concerns. Out-migration of the working age population with insurance is ongoing. Centralized urban areas are ok, but this leaves rural people having to drive 60 miles for prenatal care. If that particular hospital goes out it means 120 miles. This is going on all over the US. They can’t find a model that works in rural America, at Medicare and Medicaid, that works. They see massive failure. Medicaid expansion in AR prevented hospital closing. Net neutral for rural hospitals because we took the deal and surrounding states did not. You cannot have a viable ecosystem without education and health care. This innovation vision is great, but we have short term challenges that have to be addressed and this is a full-bore effort to do just that.
IWRC2023 Panel: Business Innovation
Jeff Amerine from Startup Junkies
Erica Brigance from ArcBest Technologies
Chad Martin from Standard Lithium
Lenore Trammel from Big River Steel
Bill Yoder from Arkansas Center for Data Sciences
Sensors installed into the steel recycling building and the forge help deliver metrics that head off problems that can be corrected without having anyone intervene. If we see something, we can fix it, but fixing things that we can’t see, and using machine learning, will let us reduce the number of defects. People are not replaced by this. It’s a force multiplier. It’s not skynet and it’s not the end of the world. It’s not magic pixie dust.
AI and ML will change the way we work. The way we get information will change and the way that we think critically about that information will change. A focus on the data infrastructure makes you change the way you do business. Most of our data infrastructure was there to keep our operational systems running, but data management allowed a big expansion in other ways, back to the modeling and down to the decision making. Being able to have actionable insights is key.
How do we know the model is right? Why do we choose the models? Manufacturing process and extraction sees AI/ML as having a role. It improves sensing. Predictive maintenance means shorter downtimes and less really big downtimes. Digital twin technology and the ability to simulate an entire plant has been a good deal.
How does this impact the demand for people? It’s having a big impact. AI has been around for a long time but just over the past few years it’s caused a shift in training in the IT space. Two years ago, a book “The Age of AI and Our Human Future” <== “an easy read if I read it” says Bill Yoder. Claims self regulation and that we’ll go slow, but that did not pan out. The same people now want regulation.
When you are looking at regulation, make it easy for people to get permits. We have to know what we’re doing and how to do it. Clarity, transparency, and an understandable process. You don’t want to have to employ an attorney full time to get a business started.
Historically, I’ve needed MS Data Science people, but moving forward, the skills are becoming more widespread and available up and down the workforce. For the most part, the state government has been good to work with. There’s money out there, but when you’re looking for innovation and speed, the red tape is so huge and the process so long, that business is hampered. It’s almost not worth it in some cases, despite a need for the money. AR is a wonderful place to do business, it’s just the red tape for funding and grants is the biggest issue.
There’s a lot of good things going on in AR building an ecosystem and reinforcing collaboration and innovation. There’s people looking for funding, but the feedback loop for accountability isn’t tight enough. People doing well need positive reinforcement and people doing badly need correction.
If you were advising the administration on priorities, what would you say?
History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes. Having control over supply chains is a pretty good idea. Having critical inputs like lithium and steel and having access to them regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the world is important.
We see this increase of interest in building resilience in the supply chain. What should we be thinking about moving forward?
Critical minerals and other elements means you also need other equipment. Pumps, valves, etc. Lead time on PLC systems right now is 18 months. You might have to build something out of Argentina or Chile, and it might take upwards to two years. While these minerals are important, other infrastructure is required in order to get it done. Logistics and supply chain is distorted-global at this point, and clawing it back may be unnecessarily expensive or absolutely crucial, and it may be hard to tell the difference. Less reliance on single-source moving forward? Yes. Everyone is having trouble. Getting forklifts (2 year wait list) for example. If you can’t operate then you end up selling your IP. You can’t operate with a two year wait.
Training up, quickly enough, technicians from Taiwan for example, HB1 visas. Workforce for critical industry needs, what should we be doing?
You should be thinking about the talent well ahead of a plant. The people are simply not out there.
Basic English and basic math are necessary. Why are we having to teach basic math and how to talk on a radio to people? We are having to do this. You have to do this stuff before you can start your facility. Construction training so they can come work on the construction side. Operational training for the people operating the equipment. Talking about manufacturing early and often. Comparison to the steel industry in Detroit vs. the relatively new one here in AR. You have to convince people that these jobs are good, safe, and clean. It takes more convincing here. You have to start early and often to show what it looks like to work in manufacturing.
Driver attraction and retention. Average age of a driver is middle-50s. Motor freight needs drivers. Driver shortage has been ongoing for many years. Recruiting drivers takes time and effort. Expectations of LTL vs. long haul freight. Marketing the job is a big job in and of itself. What it is vs. what they think it is.
What is happening in AR to address the needs for attracting more data scientists?
Third time he’s moved back to AR (Bill Yoder), so he has an interesting perspective. There’s a lot going on in higher education. 10 years ago they’re still training on COBOL [COBOL is currently taught at UALR, for example, because there is demand for COBOL programmers to maintain financial institution mainframes that run COBOL programs. Singling out COBOL is a poor choice for both practical and theoretical reasons. Practically, because COBOL programmers are well paid, and theoretically because the lessons learned by learning that particular language are transferable to other languages and improve the software development skills of the student. -mdt] but now higher ed is moving a lot closer to relevant skills being added sooner rather than later. Data science is coming along with lots of funded majors and 10 different disciplines. There are a lot of smart people coming out of that program. And they are sharing the curriculum with 2 and other 4 year schools. We don’t need to hire professors at each institute. We can share the talent with remote access. We did hear in another panel that teachers only have so much time and online courses are difficult to teach. Mike Rogers was mentioned again (chief of workforce development) and that there is an expectation of improved outcomes. The investment in ACDS (Bill Yoder is the chair) has made a difference and he’s doing his best to step up.
Q: 16,000 applicants to ACDS. You have some demographics? What does it look like? Are they over the age of 50? If they’re not getting jobs and not getting interns, and between 20-50, then what kind of resources are being provided? They don’t have time to get the skills?
A: The average age is 26 or so of the people that apply. Not everyone is going to qualify for an IT career. What we’ve tried to do over the past 3.5 years, has been recognized, and is being expanded to other sectors. Placing people in manufacturing, engineering, and transportation. Placing more people in different sectors is going to increase the odds of success.
Q: There’s people looking for tech work that aren’t qualified. What is going to help these people?
A: First thing we do is pre-assess, screen, and interview. Pre-apprenticeship training to get them up to being able to take advantage of the apprenticeship program.
Q: I went to the UAF and work for Raytheon, and she wants to ask about higher ed and college education and engineering and they are more theoretical based, and how do you feel about the curriculum when it comes to manufacturing and data sciences, and the theory and there’s no hands-on training. Is there a curriculum that needs to be added to the program?
[UALR used to have a large engineering technology program that did exactly this sort of thing. The last UALR class that was able to sit for the state Fundamentals of Engineering exam was 1996. The loss of engineering curriculum with hands-on lab components in the majority of the coursework was a loss for the state. At the time, it was widely believed that University of Arkansas at Fayetteville opposed engineering technology students being allowed to take the FE/EIT exam, which leads to a Professional Engineering license, and also opposed the existence of any other school producing “engineers”. The perception was that UARK wanted a monopoly on engineering, and this is why the UALR program was removed and replaced with IT classes. -mdt]
A: Internships from the panelists mentioned as solutions. The lack of supervisory and management and interpersonal skills is identified as a big problem. Graduates do not have enough of these skills.
Q: Department of education person from audience: when we try and match the experiences with labor market data, we are not sure how well that matches up with places like Standard Lithium. How do we predict the sort of skills 10 years down the road?
A: Teaching into the fads is tricky. Learn how to learn and base level operator jobs. Basic computing skills.
Q: how can we get high school graduates into the workforce?
A: Big River Steel has a “signing day” for high school students, from industry to interview graduates to get them prepared and job offers straight out of high school. New facility for steel meant a kick off of high school recruiting. They went to the schools and if you were a senior and not going away to college consider Big River steel. This resulted in two hires. They had to have training at community college over the summer and started as new hires in entry level positions at 10 dollars an hour plus bonus up to 20 dollars an hour on top of that. One of these students has been promoted. This is our second year of high school recruitment, and now recruiting juniors and seniors. Where the juniors in high school get an internship, then a summer, and then come in as entry level. You can get hired in out of high school. Better chance if you go through the internship program, but there is a chance.
Closing comments from the panel.
There are a lot of good things happening in all parts of the state. Lenore Trammel Big River Steel, northeast AR. Largest steel producing county in the US. There’s a good base to start attracting people to want to come live here. “Work here, live here” Big River Steel program.
Erica says great experience the past day and a half. Great things are going on here. If there’s any hope for partnerships then please think of ArcBest.
Chad Martin of Standard Lithium says you don’t have to go out of the state to have a great career. Lots of innovative things going on here that no one seems to know about. Business diversity is high here.
Bill Yoder ACDS says it’s not a secret and everyone present should let people know.
This panel was mainly about business boosterism, but there was a lot revealed here of use to us.
“To find yourself then lose yourself in the service to others. Go IEEE!”
Mr. Francis closing remarks: Scaling up regional economies group: facilitating proposals on CHIPS act. Meet after lunch to collaborate and catch up. Otherwise, the conference closes.
This was a unique event in several ways. It focused solidly on people, and not the technology, or the business at the expense of people. The CHIPS act is about investing in people. It is an opportunity. Just put your mind to it, talk and connect, the opportunity is out there.
Venn diagrams challenge from the opening talk revisited – has everyone met someone from another sector?
Lots of good feedback to IEEE. Single biggest network of technical volunteers in the world. It’s doing good work.
Round-table for the SURGE group at 1pm. How can organizations like ORI plug in?
IWRC2023 SURGE Roundtable
What is SURGE? What is it not (right now)?
We will then start at the same place in terms of information.
Any tangible next steps to continue the momentum as a community?
Scaling Up the Regional Economy
Coalition of the willing, volunteer basis, Hugh McDonald originally directed most of the effort here. Surge is an initiative to build a broad network of stakeholders in a public-private partnership to ultimately make Arkansas more competitive for funding from the CHIPS act and other federal programs.
First meeting of this working group was a couple weeks after founding in March. In May, AEDC awarded a small grant to Startup Junkie to get this off the ground. All we are is a network of people passionate about getting money for this state.
Jennifer takes her role too seriously, according to her performance evaluators. She is very motivated and serious about getting the most possible use out of tax dollars and “bring them back” to AR.
This is the first time that there’s been an initiative like this (?).
Novel and meaningful partnerships have been mandated for this program, so let’s get in there and see where we can fit in. Academia, nonprofits, government, industry, state and local government, k-12 schools, etc etc etc are needed. Solicitations are dropping, and are being read. Some are only for academia. Some are only for industry. Initially, what about having a group of people that can filter out these opportunities. It’s difficult to keep track of one website, let alone 20+. Having a group that can quickly parse through them and figure out who is who at the zoo and what’s what, and bring things to the community of focus (in this case, AR).
We’re not a formal organization. The only thing changing hands here is some organizational support. When this thing is over, by May of next year, there will be a roadmap.
There is $52 billion that has been appropriated. $39 billion is going to foundries and handled by commerce. Commercial Fabrication Facilities submissions are open. When you run the NAICS codes, you get 21 businesses in Arkansas. There’s lots of targets.
Running the NAICS codes and reaching out to people is a great way to get in touch with the right sort of organizations that might be ready to move forward. Other companies that might want to relocate here are also a target of the business development group. NIST is where these awards will come from, which in this case is the Department of Commerce. You can request up to 35% for big capital stuff. That means 65% is up to you to raise. But if you’ve ever considered retooling, expanding, or going into something like this, there has never been a better time than now. We will probably never see another investment like this, again. The last time this happened, this level of money for science and technology, was after Sputnik.
Consider how rare this opportunity is.
Questions about SURGE?
Tech-based economic development.
E.g. when Wolfspeed acquired APE, the CTO at that time made a statement “us purchasing this small business has enabled us to provide the best chips on the market worldwide”. That quote alone was a great indicator that people in the space know what’s going on. But,this sort of sale and this sort of statement is not on the map of the big industry groups.
Q: We had the presentation about NSF engines and access to food and health? Connect the dots from semiconductors to food and health.
A: Jennifer: Application? Every electronic device needs semiconductors, every piece of healthcare equipment, everything needs semiconductors. This is why it’s a matter of national security. We can’t function without semiconductors and they enable every other industry. Matt Francis (Ozark Integrated Electronics) says it’s important for power transmission because there’s a lot of “smart” things and it affects absolutely everything. John V. From Michigan State, says smart agriculture is not being done in a nice way. You have to pay to play. Places with lots of smaller producers have people that are left on the sideline. Competition that already had scale on their side now has AI and other things and this will drive them into the ground. Jennifer says Michelle Shoke from hunger alliance reports that coming here was well worth it because we can’t be innovating anything if people are starving. This is how the topic for the ENGINES proposal came about. People can’t go to school if they are hungry or chronically ill. Access to medical care and food is absolutely necessary. We have to make sure that our basic human needs are addressed. You want your fancy stuff? Address the iniquity first. We can’t deliver the solutions to rural America without innovation and workforce development. I wish the larger community would realize the significance of semiconductors to everything else. We talk about AI/ML being the next technological revolution. Technology really is everywhere, and semiconductors are everywhere. Innovations and a secure supply chain is like food access. This is the basic level of technology required for every other innovation and technology.
Q: Jennifer: how do you view the importance of semiconductors?
Q: Audience: timeline? How can we respond to this? What’s the investment thesis? Expansion opportunities for existing companies? How can we market the opportunity for industry to come up with the ask? What do you need? How could access to $38 billion dollars help you?
A: Jennifer: For example, at our August event that we had on campus, we met with someone from Newport. They saw the NIST application come out, and closed the browser. It was already too much. It’s 100 pages long. It’s not light work. They were interested, they wanted to do an expansion, but it’s too cumbersome to do the paperwork. So Jennifer offered to do the paperwork if they would go for it.
Q: An audience member (Black man) who left after graduation speaks next. He worked in software but it was just dumb luck, a contract with UALR. As far as bringing his company here, there are a lot of barriers, some perceived and some real. He went to Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh. Marketing yourself as a solution in the semiconductor space is going to be a challenge. There’s less friction in other states with established companies and a trained workforce. E.g. north Phoenix, largest fab in the world, still having trouble hiring people. Not many Americans want to go to China, even short term. They underestimated the friction. No history in this industry, convincing people to come here, is a big challenge that should not be underestimated. Grow people here instead. That’s your best bet. This means working hard to prevent the brain drain. You’re headed in the right direction.
Q: Jennifer: are there any programs in AZ that don’t exist in AR?
A: Black man in audience: yes. AZ got TSMC by competing outside the state. They have 8 fabs. Bringing in another was the goal. This means that fabs are stealing people from each other at least a little bit. There’s no good answer. Having government and industry players is key and it’s hard work.
A: Matt Francis: identifying our niche is helping. We don’t have major fabs, but we have been a powerhouse in electronic packaging, with innovations coming out of research, transferred into companies, that have then succeeded.
A: We export our workforce here. People, very well trained, leave. We keep exporting them. The fact that they are now working in elevated positions implies that we’ve made that workforce for some time.
A: Jennifer: I listened to a podcast on TSMC and how it took decades on investment and coordination. They straight up poached people to come back to Taiwan. What if we knocked on the door of these people and what would it take to get them back to AR?
A: Matt Francis: wrote many many grants over many years and finally started winning some and was able to start making chips. He had to explain that yes, this is in Arkansas. Now it’s a “fun fact” that Ozark Integrated Circuits is from AR. You build confidence by doing the work and solving the problems. People don’t know what we’re capable of.
We have companies that go back 60-70 years that do electronics manufacturing. He had professors that worked at Baldwin Organ back in the day, and that’s some good solid old-school electronics manufacturing.
We don’t all get to be in the same place for this sort of thing very often. Any feedback.
Q: money side of things: 35% coming from the government means that financing tools have to be available. There has to be something that helps fill in the other 65% semiconductor equipment that is not cheap. There has to be a mechanism for finance.
There’s strengths we can take advantage of. Packaging and equipment manufacture. And, critical minerals. That’s just inside the NIST application. Any of these other programs, and you’re wondering how you can fit in, then come to SURGE and we can let you know how you fit in.
There’s a website for SURGE https://surgeArkansas.org
With some resources and cross links to things AEDC is doing. Of special mention is the “opportunity” section.
IWRC2023 Appendix: “Final Conference Schedule”
Innovation, Workforce, and Research Conference (IWRC)
13-15 September 2023
*Timing and speakers may change slightly.
Wednesday, 13 September
First bus leaves lobby @ Embassy Suites (free parking is also available at the Clinton Library)
Opening Reception @ Clinton Library
Thursday, 14 September
Welcome & Kickoff
- Matt Francis, Ozark Integrated Circuits, Inc. • Jennifer Fowler, Arkansas Economic
- Ed Palacio, President, IEEE-USA
Secretary Hugh McDonald
Arkansas Department of Commerce
Building an Innovation
Dr. JD Swanson, National Science Foundation
1) Advanced Energy & Critical Minerals
- Becky Keogh, Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (moderator)
- Lisa Perry, Walmart Energy Services
- Will Smith, Standard Lithium
- Dr. John Verboncoeur, Michigan State University
- Dr. Branden Bough, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office
2) Education & Workforce
- Dr. Tina Moore, Arkansas Division of Higher Education (moderator)
- Lonnie Emard, Arkansas Center for Data Sciences
- Dr. Suzan Anwar, Philander Smith University • Dr. Argelia Lorence, Arkansas State University • Amy Elrod, Acxiom
Networking Lunch (provided)
CHIPS+ Plenary Panel
- Kathy Hayashi, Qualcomm (moderator)
Innovation, Workforce, and Research Conference (IWRC)
13-15 September 2023
*Timing and speakers may change slightly.
- John Hardin, North Carolina Department of Commerce
- April Campbell, U.S. Economic Development Administration
- Dr. Craig Scott, Fellow, NIST Advanced Manufacturing Program Office
- Dr. Hugh Churchill, University of Arkansas
1) Broadening Collaboration: The Good, the Bad, and the Money
- Asa Gilliland, Redstone Consulting (moderator) • Benito Lubazibwa, Remix Ideas
- Dr. Zeeshan Habeeb, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
- Paul Kodzwa, RTX Technology Research Center • Todd Paulsen, NeedipeDIA
2) Innovation & Intellectual Property
- Becky Taylor, Austin Technology Incubator (moderator)
- Neil Merrett, Air Force Research Lab
- Matt Schantz, Frost Brown Todd LLP
- Luna Acosta, Arkansas State University • Weston Waldo, Austin Technology Incubator
Sharing Notes: Breakout Session Report Out
Matt Francis, President and CEO, Ozark Integrated Circuits, Inc.
5:30 – 6:30 PM
Friday, 15 September
Erwin Gianchandani, Assistant Director,
Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, National Science Foundation
Advancing Equitable Access to Food and Health Technologies in the Delta
Dr. Joe Thompson, President & CEO, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement; PI, NSF Regional Innovation Engines Development Award
Innovation, Workforce, and Research Conference (IWRC)
13-15 September 2023
*Timing and speakers may change slightly.
Business Innovation Panel Discussion
- Jeff Amerine, Startup Junkie (Facilitator) • Erica Brigance, ArcBest Technologies
- Chad Martin, Standard Lithium
- Lenore Trammel, Big River Steel
- Bill Yoder, Arkansas Center for Data Sciences
Networking Lunch (provided)
Scaling Up Regional
Economies: Collaboration is Key
- Matt Francis, Ozark Integrated Circuits, Inc. • Jennifer Fowler, Arkansas Economic