UTEP, along with several regional and national partners, will look to build on UTEP’s success and increasing prominence in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing fields to bring more jobs and spur growth in the economy of West Texas, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA). The award is part of the initial phase of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
As finalists in the challenge, UTEP and its collaborators will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposal and compete for an additional award of up to $100 million.
UTEP’s proposal, titled “Reclaiming Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing Dominance through Frontier Technologies,” aims to help close America’s gap in aerospace and defense manufacturing capabilities while providing the potential for economic growth and job opportunities for UTEP students and other residents across West Texas.
“Aerospace and defense manufacturing represents a transformational economic development opportunity for El Paso and West Texas,” said Heather Wilson, UTEP President. “As a national leader in aerospace, defense, and additive manufacturing research and development, UTEP is grateful for this U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to help develop more high-paying jobs in the region while enhancing U.S. competitiveness. We have a great foundation to build upon and we look forward to working closely with partners to plan next steps.”
Sixty projects were named finalists out of 529 applicants that submitted entries to the Build Back Better Regional Challenge in October, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Each of the projects targets a sector of the economy that is specific to the applicant’s geographic region.
“We have built this strategy from the strength of significant aerospace, defense and advanced manufacturing capabilities and activities that, if better connected and resourced, could make West Texas a strategic national hub for aerospace and defense manufacturing,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate vice president for the Aerospace Center (cSETR) at UTEP and principal investigator for the project.
The project will be managed and executed by the newly formed West Texas Aerospace and Defense Manufacturing Coalition, which is led by UTEP and includes several national and regional partners such as the City of El Paso and the El Paso Chamber.
“Being selected as a finalist is a huge accomplishment and fantastic opportunity for our region,” said Elizabeth Triggs, economic and international development director for the City of El Paso. “Our community’s success is a direct result of a focused strategy to leverage our community’s assets, such as UTEP’s students and team. We are also ideally located for success due to our proximity to Fort Bliss and nearby investment in the aerospace industry. We look forward to our continued work with UTEP, the Chamber, and our other coalition partners to grow the regional aerospace and defense manufacturing industry cluster and, ultimately, advance our community’s quality of life by creating jobs and investment.”
The group proposes to catalyze economic growth in aerospace and defense manufacturing by developing the El Paso Makes Advanced Manufacturing District and the West Texas Advanced Technology Corridor. It aims to create 4,000 new engineering and technologist positions and 13,000 technical positions in aerospace and defense manufacturing in West Texas by 2030. The coalition also will work to bring 300 of the region’s manufacturers into aerospace and defense supply chains in that same timeframe.
The West Texas region includes El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Brewster and Presidio counties.
“There is vast untapped opportunity in the region for job creation in aerospace and defense manufacturing, including three military bases – Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base,” said Ryan Wicker, Ph.D., executive director of the W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation at UTEP, and co-principal investigator of the project. “West Texas is part of the fourth-largest manufacturing hub in the world, which also includes Juárez, Mexico, and Doña Ana County, New Mexico.”
The coalition has identified several core strategic manufacturing strengths in our region that will contribute to strengthening the nation’s defense and industrial sectors. These include additive manufacturing, robotics and automation, precision and high temperature machining, advanced tool and die making, and electronics. Areas of potential growth opportunity regionally are in electronics manufacturing and cybersecurity for manufacturing.
Anchoring the region’s capabilities and competitive advantages are the research preeminence and talent development pipelines at UTEP’s Aerospace and Keck centers. Both research centers are national leaders in supplying a diverse, industry-ready, highly skilled workforce. They are also widely regarded as leading innovators in aerospace, defense and additive manufacturing technologies.
In the past decade, these research hubs have trained and placed more than 600 engineering graduates in the aerospace, defense and advanced manufacturing industries. In the 2019-20 academic year alone, Lockheed Martin hired 101 UTEP engineering students across its business units from these research centers.
Additionally, the Keck and Aerospace centers have performed agency and industry sponsored research and development work valued at more than $90 million since their inception.
“I am grateful to UTEP for their partnership in championing economic development investments,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar. “I look forward to seeing how this innovative project will help get our aerospace and defense manufacturing industry to the next level.”
The finalists in the Build Back Better Regional Challenge will now compete for Phase 2 funding. The deadline to submit applications for those awards is March 15, 2022.