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San Diego State Plans STEM Center for Lithium, Clean Energy

A new $80 million Innovation Campus in Brawley, Calif., will be part of broader efforts to create a highly skilled local workforce to meet a growing demand for lithium, a key component in rechargeable batteries.

Electric car lithium battery
Shutterstock/Smile Fight
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an additional $80 million within his revised 2022-23 budget to build a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) facility at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley, according to a news release Friday.

State and university officials said last week that the new facility will provide workforce training for companies to extract lithium from the Imperial Valley region, which some are referring to as “Lithium Valley.” The new funding comes as part of a $300 billion budget, which the state said aims to accelerate the development of clean-energy technology in the fight against climate change and pollution, among other goals.

“[SDSU is] looking at investing in a center to develop a pathway for locals. I love this,” Newsom said in a public statement. “So often, when the next gold rush comes in, it goes to the pockets of fancy folks and doesn’t go back to the community. We are trying to avoid that.”

Funding for the STEM facility was championed by state Sen. Ben Hueso and Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, who urged the governor to propose the funding, according to an announcement from Hueso’s office.

Hueso said the the center will boost efforts to help the U.S. make the transition to a clean-energy economy.

“Lithium extraction in Imperial County will create high-paying jobs for thousands of residents,” Hueso said in a news release. “A new STEM building at [the university’s] Brawley campus will ensure lithium extraction companies have access to a local, highly skilled workforce to fill those well-paying positions. This is great news, as Imperial County looks to be one of the leaders in lithium production … We are in a position to create good jobs, bolster our economy, and provide greater education for Imperial Valley residents.”

According to an email from university spokesperson Cory Marshall, the 65,000-square-foot center, dubbed the Innovation Campus in Brawley, will house new spaces for STEM research and education programming, including 25,000 square feet of labs and 20,000 square feet of STEM-focused classrooms.

“This represents one of the most significant investments made to higher education in the Imperial Valley, and notably in our existing 60-year history as the only four-year university in Imperial County. Also, important to our region, state and nation, this new facility will be critical to the immediate and highly anticipated education and workforce needs created by the development of Lithium Valley,” the email read.

According to Marshall, the university has been involved in economic and workforce studies to understand specific jobs and levels of education needed to support Lithium Valley. The email said the revised budget announcement followed previous SDSU investments in its Brawley campus building, including about $15 million for the construction of new research spaces and hiring new staff, among other uses.

“What is key to the planned STEM building in Brawley is that this will provide the first regional facilities by which these degree and research programs can all be run fully in the Imperial Valley, for the benefit and accessibility of local students and families,” Marshall said in an email.

The budget proposal will now go to the state Legislature for consideration and approval.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.