Visit is part of national tour of American Rescue Plan Regional Challenge awardees
Aaron Stebner (left), associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and Georgia AIM co-lead, discusses how the AI Manufacturing Pilot Facility (AI-MPF) advances Georgia AIM goals with Dennis Alvord, the Economic Development Administration’s deputy assistant secretary for economic development and chief operating officer. (PHOTO: Joya Chapman)
Senior Economic Development Administration (EDA) officials visited the Georgia Tech campus Nov. 14, to meet with a coalition of partners looking to transform the state’s workforce and create more economic opportunities through a combination of manufacturing and artificial intelligence innovations.
The visit, led by Dennis Alvord, the EDA’s deputy assistant secretary for economic development and chief operating officer, follows his department’s award of a $65 million grant in September to Georgia Tech and a coalition of partners to support the initiative called Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing or Georgia AIM.
It’s one of 21 projects across the country that were funded as part of the $1 billion American Rescue Plan Regional Challenge. Alvord’s Atlanta stop — the 19th project visited — is part of the agency’s plan to visit and meet with leaders of all the funded projects across the country.
EDA expects the 21 projects will create more than 220,000 jobs and collectively attract $20 billion in private investments.
A 12-partner collaboration of industry, higher education, and government organizations, Georgia AIM seeks to close technology gaps and support a technological opportunity ecosystem across the state that’s inclusive of underrepresented communities and rural counties.
The Georgia AIM coalition’s efforts are projected to draw $105 million in private investment and create or save 23,000 jobs over the next five years.
Spread across eight different projects, the coalition’s goals include nurturing K-12 students who are interested in science and math-related pursuits, building workforce development programs specific to artificial intelligence, and catalyzing outside investments to communities and startups. Finally, Georgia AIM looks to better secure the state’s manufacturing infrastructure.
“I’m incredibly impressed by the size of and diversity of the of the coalition that you brought together for this project,” Alvord said, following discussions with several members, which, in addition to Georgia Tech, include the Technology Association of Georgia’s TAG Bridge Builders, the Robins Air Force Base 21st Century Partnership, the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, and the Technical College System of Georgia.
Community engagement and creating a framework that allows the communities and people affected to actively shape their futures is important to EDA, Alvord said.
“It’s great to see the ingrained commitment to equity and making sure that diverse populations and underserved populations are really tied to this award and are going to benefit from it,” Alvord said.
Doing that successfully, he said, means ensuring those communities are exposed to artificial intelligence in comprehensive ways to see “the potential that it has to revolutionize existing industries and to create new entrepreneurial opportunities for new business starts in these underserved geographies and populations.”
He noted some of the focus areas of Georgia AIM are doing that, such as the AI InVenture K-12 Experience. That effort, a collaboration of Georgia Tech’s K-12 InVenture Prize and Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing, is piloting a rural regional event with a region-specific prize. They will also create supplemental lessons centered on AI and data science that will be part of a K-12 InVenture Prize curriculum website.
“I was very much struck by the efforts to reach out to the K-through-12 populations and expose them to AI and its potential in manufacturing very early to get people into the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] ecosystem very early,” he said. “It’s not just about being interested in science or math. It’s understanding how that could tie to a future career path so that individuals can see themselves following that trajectory.”
Equally impressive, he said, is a Georgia AIM the component of connecting those interested in innovating in AI manufacturing to the resources to make that possible. Several of the Georgia AIM partners, including Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, TAG Bridge Builders, and the Technical College System of Georgia are already doing that through creative workforce development programs, implementation strategies, and serving as conduits to draw outside investment.
“What I love about this particular coalition is that it’s connecting all the parts,” said Loretta Daniels, director of the TAG Bridge Builders program, which is charged with ensuring the state’s technology sector is more equitable and inclusive of Black tech talent.
“We’re connecting with so many different organizations trying to advance diversity and in the tech arena, but we’ve all come together to try and figure out how we can all advance each other.”
Bridging artificial intelligence and manufacturing is reflective of where Georgia leads and Georgia Tech innovates, said Aaron Stebner, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Materials Science and Engineering. Stebner co-leads Georgia AIM with Donna Ennis, director of Diversity Engagement and Program Development in the Enterprise Innovation Institute, and Thomas R. Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute.
The state’s robust manufacturing economy employs more than 400,000 and generates in excess of $61 billion in economic activity year. Georgia is a leading manufacturing hub in 10 different sectors and Georgia Tech is at the forefront of AI research and innovations.
“It seemed like the right place and the right time to bring this group of people together in this endeavor,” Stebner said. “We had this really unique opportunity to ask ourselves what does the future look like and how can we do it better than we have been doing it before.”