UK, Partners Named Build Back Better Regional Finalists

UK is co-leading a project that was named a finalist for the Build Back Better Challenge. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo
UK is co-leading a project that was named a finalist for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 22, 2021) — The University of Kentucky is part of a coalition that received a $500,000 grant to support a project to boost economic recovery in Kentucky through technological innovations in agriculture.

The proposal was one of 60 finalists out of 529 applications nationwide for the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, a U.S. Economic Development Administration American Rescue Plan program that aims to boost economic recovery from the pandemic. The phase one grant makes the coalition eligible to submit for phase two funding of up to $100 million.

UK Innovate is one of five core partners leading the proposal and project, along with the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, AppHarvest, Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and Render Capital.

The coalition’s proposal, “Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Prosperity through AgriTech Hub (Kentucky’s PATH),” focuses on boosting Kentucky’s economic recovery using technology in agriculture to improve yield, efficiency and profitability.

“We are thrilled for this opportunity to partner with the Commonwealth and bring home a big win for Kentucky,” said Ian McClure, J.D., UK’s associate vice president for research, innovation and economic impact. “Through research, innovation and entrepreneurship, UK Innovate believes in the potential of our proposal, including prosperity through industry accumulation and health-improving measures through development of solutions in the food chain. We look forward to working with the College of Agriculture and our partners to capture this opportunity.”

The proposal involves five aligned projects centered around the construction of a state-of-the-art AgriTech research and development center that will establish Eastern Kentucky as an agriculture technology hub.

UK Innovate will take the lead on an industry and job growth project, the Food Chain Global Startup Challenge, which will help establish global competition to create a vibrant AgriTech industry in Eastern Kentucky. Startups will be eligible for funding to develop new technologies, processes and solutions that sustainably produce, distribute, process, store, manage waste and ensure equity and access related to fresh foods. International startups will also be eligible to receive additional assistance to relocate to Kentucky.

The Kentucky Center for Statistics forecasts the AgriTech industry will add nearly $200 million in new revenue to the local economy between 2022 and 2027. Through job creation and provision of family-supporting wages, Kentucky’s PATH will seek to reverse Eastern Kentucky’s status as one of the most economically distressed parts of the country, the proposal states.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.