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CHIPS Act Could Mean Jobs, Scholarships for Georgia Universities

Recent federal legislation gives the National Science Foundation $10 billion to create roughly 20 regional technology hubs, which could mean STEM funding and scholarships for institutions like Columbus State University.

columbus state
(TNS) — Could the Columbus-Auburn-Opelika area become a regional technology hub? Will Columbus State University get more federal grant dollars?

Both are possibilities after President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview.

The bipartisan bill passed by Congress in late July includes more than $52 billion for U.S. companies producing computer chips with billions more in tax breaks via tax credits that incentivize chip manufacturing — a move that will help area manufacturers like KIA as well Pratt and Whitney.

Beyond that, the legislation directs the National Science Foundation to use $10 billion to create roughly 20 regional technology hubs. The foundation will also receive $81 billion over five years, and a portion of those funds will be to strengthen research capacity at historically Black colleges and universities as well as other small institutions.

Warnock said Columbus is one of the Georgia cities well positioned to take advantage of the new legislation.

"It means jobs, jobs, jobs," he said. "It means investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and the future workforce."


Language in the act directs the U.S. Department of Commerce to use a merit, review-based process to designate the 20 regional technology and innovation hubs.

The hubs must be geographically dispersed throughout the country, and a third of the hubs must significantly benefit a small and rural community.

Columbus is considered one of 102 prime locations for technology hubs based on research from MIT professors Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, authors of "Jump-Starting America," Warnock said.

The Columbus-Auburn-Opelika area ranks 81 on the list. The rankings take into account the number of people ages 25-64 living in the area, home prices, crime, top science graduate programs, the number of science undergraduates and other various data points.

Other Georgia cities to make the Jump-Starting America list include Atlanta, Savannah and Warner Robins. Atlanta is ranked 13, while Savannah (99) and Warner Robins (101) fall below Columbus.

"We need to make sure that the incredible human potential doesn't leave Columbus for the West Coast," Warnock said. "This is a part of our state with a lot of smart people ... These tech hubs would look to bring together government, the private sector (and) university resources to spur innovation, which is the fuel for our economy."

As a smaller institution, Columbus State could gain from the expanded pool of federal STEM funding promised. One NSF program that Columbus State University currently participates in, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, should see a 50 percent increase in the number of scholarships awarded over the next five years, according to the bill.

The Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program gives funding to higher education institutions to provide scholarships, stipends and support for STEM majors seeking to become K-12 educators.

Kimberly Shaw, a Columbus State University physics professor, helped secure a nearly $1.2 million grant through the Robert Noyce program in 2019. The five-year program awards scholarships to junior or senior students who are in math, science or computer science degree programs, and the students will receive teacher certification.

She told the L-E that the federal grant funding typically goes to larger universities, so the bill will give smaller academic institutions a better fighting chance.

Shaw said the Robert Noyce program makes the community better because it provides Columbus area schools with better math and science teachers. Those teachers will mentor the next generation of STEM workers. Businesses want to know that their workforce is well educated. Employees want to know that schools have talented math and science teachers.

Programs like this bring businesses and employees but it also helps to keep them in the Columbus area, Shaw added.

"The idea that Columbus State will actually be able to better compete for these funds to provide better education for our students is really important workforce development, and I can't highlight that enough," she said. "This is going to be a game changer for a lot of (Columbus State and Muscogee County students.)"

©2022 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.