On Octer 23, the Biden-Harris Administration included San Juan in its announcement of funding for 31 regional tech hubs across the country, to “spur American innovation, strengthen manufacturing, and create good-paying jobs in every region of the country.”
Using funding authorized in a 2022 law, the CHIPS and Science Act, the new program aims to return the United States to a dominant position in research and development of technology.
“We’re going to invest in critical technologies like biotechnology, critical materials, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing — so the U.S. will lead the world again in innovation across the board,” President Joe Biden said. “I truly believe this country is about to take off.”
Technology research and development in the United States has for some years been centered in a few metro areas. To expand the reach of technology in the U.S., the new tech hubs will be located in Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Montana, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Virginia, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, Maryland, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Louisiana, Idaho, Wyoming, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New York, Nevada, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, Ohio, Maine, and Washington as well as Puerto Rico.
There were more than 400 applicants for the grants. The 31 chosen locations will receive initial grant funding. All will be eligible to apply for the next round of funding, which will support five to ten of the most successful hubs to the tune of as much as $75 million.
Puerto Rico’s successful entry is PRBio Tech Hub, led by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust. This San Juan center will focus on a plan “to advance the region as a global leader in biotechnology through fast-tracking the discovery, development, manufacturing, and supply of next generation biotechnology and medical device products to detect, treat, and cure diseases and ailments.”
Puerto Rico already exports more pharmaceuticals than any of the states, and both pharmaceuticals and medical devices are top categories of production and export in Puerto Rico. There are already multiple FDA-approved factories on the Island, and an experienced workforce familiar with the special needs of biotechnology. Puerto Rico also has a high proportion of STEM grads, strong support in higher education, and an impressive concentration of biotech experts. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, it also uses the same currency and regulations as the rest of the United States, making it an easy partner for mainland corporations.
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo said in a press release, “As each region develops its own strategy to catalyze innovation and job creation, the entire nation grows more secure and more competitive.”
Governor Pierluisi said, “This Tech Hub Strategic Development grant is a great complement to our strategy of strengthening our position as a global leader in the development of emerging technologies tied to the biosciences industry. This award will strengthen our technology and innovation ecosystem and will accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology solutions. I thank the Biden-Harris Administration for its continued support and confidence in our work.”
The New York Times expressed pessimism about the new plan, saying, “It remains to be seen if dispatching money to more remote places, which struggle with issues like an outflow of young workers, will ultimately be the most efficient way to use government funding to promote technological gains.”
However, this is actually a central tenet of the current administration’s plan to spread good jobs across the country.
“We’re doing this from coast to coast, and in the heartland and red states and blue states, small towns, cities of all sizes,” President Biden said. “All this is part of my strategy to invest in America and invest in Americans.”
The Center for American Progress reported on inequity in R&D funding in 2020, saying, “The available funding is highly concentrated in a few predominantly white areas of large urban centers on the East and West coasts, where major research universities are located.”
The Brookings Institute also pointed out that “tech has remained highly concentrated in a short list of coastal ‘superstar’ cities—places such as San Francisco, Seattle, and New York.” This fact has encouraged graduates from the so-called second and third tier cities to leave their homes and head to Silicon Valley or Boston. During the pandemic, however, the prevalence of remote work encouraged smaller metro areas to compete. North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Austin, and Pittsburgh are examples of areas that have seen a significant rise in tech development in recent years.
For San Juan, the new tech hub may be the beginning of such a transformation.