WASHINGTON, DC-Obama Administration announced a $26 million federal funding opportunity for the multiagency Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge. The National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST MEP) is among several government agencies participating in the challenge, which will provide funding for regional partnerships dedicated to developing industry clusters in support of advanced manufacturing.

Through the challenge, applicant teams will submit one application to leverage multiple federal funding sources. This allows them to take a comprehensive approach to promoting advanced manufacturing activities and support the development of clusters, which are networks of interconnected firms and supporting institutions. The program’s goal is to foster job creation, increase public and private investments, and enhance economic prosperity.

Industry clusters emerge as a result of private enterprises taking advantage of a region’s assets and strengths in the business environment, and are often supported by economic development organizations, workforce development boards, business incubators or accelerators, chambers of commerce and university-based consortia.

The 2011 challenge provided $37 million for the advancement of 20 high-growth, regional industry clusters. This year’s challenge will provide funding to approximately 12 regional partnerships. The grants are competitive and the funding should encourage private investment in the regions from a number of sources such as foundations, financial institutions, corporations and other private-sector partners.

NIST MEP’s participation builds on previous collaborations, including the Jobs Accelerator in 2011 and the 2012 Rural Jobs Accelerator. NIST MEP is investing up to $1 million per year for up to three years without cost share, which will be awarded to participating MEP centers.

MEP centers provide a variety of activities that support the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs Accelerator. They help U.S. manufacturers by providing: market intelligence, industry trends, and data about advanced manufacturing to support planning and strategy development for regional clusters; outreach to existing manufacturing firms engaging in advanced manufacturing activities in the region to secure their involvement in cluster initiatives (particularly, but not necessarily limited to, small and medium-sized manufacturers); technical assistance such as innovation and growth services, technology acceleration, supplier development, sustainability, exporting, workforce and continuous improvement services to manufacturing companies engaging in advanced manufacturing activities in targeted clusters; and tracking performance measures, including jobs created/retained, sales increased or retained, cost savings, new sales, new investments, commercialization of products and/or parts using advanced manufacturing technologies, and adoption of advanced manufacturing processes by manufacturers.

On May 29, 2012, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine led a press call to explain the challenge. NIST”s associate director for Innovation and Industry, Phillip Singerman, participated in a question and answer session with representatives from some of the other participating agencies: the Economic Development Administration (EDA); the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO); the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA); and the Small Business Administration (SBA). The National Science Foundation (NSF) also will participate in the challenge by providing additional financial support to existing Small Business Innovation Research grantees that are part of, or central to awarded projects.

An informational webinar for the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs Accelerator will be available for viewing athttp://manufacturing.gov/accelerator/index.html approximately two weeks following the announcement of the federal funding opportunity. See the announcement of federal funding athttp://manufacturing.gov/accelerator/docs/advanced-manufacturing-ffo.pdf . General questions on the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs Accelerator should be emailed to[email protected] . Agency-specific questions should be directed to the applicable agency point of contact for EDA, NIST, DOE, DOL, or SBA. Applications for the challenge are due July 9, 2012. To learn more about NIST MEP, visithttp://www.nist.gov/mep.