OEDIT seeds infrastructure innovation with $1.7 million in grants to Colorado organizations

DENVER ­ The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) announced today its latest cycle of infrastructure grantees for the Advanced Industries Accelerator Grant Program. A total of $1.7 million of collaborative infrastructure grants were approved by the Colorado’s Economic Development Commission.  

Advanced Industries Collaborative Infrastructure Grants provide state funding to collaborative projects that have a broad, industry-wide impact across one or more of Colorado’s advanced industries. Eligible projects must demonstrate solutions that provide workforce training, engage multiple industry partners or advance industry mentorship for Colorado companies.

These grant applications are reviewed by committees of business, technical and financial experts, and also receive an industry-specific review. Final recommendations face final scrutiny from the Colorado Economic Development Commission prior to approval.

Fort Lewis Solar Innovation Park – Durango

The Fort Lewis Solar Innovation Park (“The Park”) received $1.5 million. This project is a collaboration between Fort Lewis College (FLC), La Plata Electric Association (LPEA), Teledyne Brown, Lockheed Martin Space and King Energy. The Park fills a supply-chain gap, provides workforce development, and increases capacity for growth in three advanced industries: Renewable Energy, Aerospace, and Infrastructure; and matching funds are already in place.

This grant will provide funding for the initial build of The Park which will be made up of a new two-megawatt solar installation and a laboratory for field study on the Old Fort Lewis property in Hesperus, Colorado. Upon completion, The Park will be immediately self-sustaining from electricity revenues. The project will be completed within 12 months of the grant award.

Supply Chain Gap

There are a number of gaps in the advanced industries ecosystem for nascent Colorado companies trying to participate in the renewable energy economy. Those gaps impede sector growth. The Park will specifically address the supply chain gap of products and innovation for solar park infrastructure beyond just panels.

Workforce Development

While filling this supply chain gap, The Park will also become a regional cornerstone of workforce development. Like many Western Slope communities, La Plata County faces ongoing job losses in the extraction industry. The key to future prosperity lies in finding opportunities that rural communities are uniquely positioned to capture. Utility scale solar is one such opportunity.

The Park provides an innovative way to leverage existing local resources for economic growth. Fort Lewis, a partner of the NASA Technology Transfer Office, will extend its existing programs with more hands-on educational and career development programming.

Increasing Growth Capacity

The Park will attract major renewable industry players and foster the growth of nascent businesses, providing local opportunities for the highly skilled workers. The Park is anticipated to create economic growth that will exceed the existing oil and gas industry local economic impact.

As the only affordable utility scale purpose built solar park, The Park will attract applied R&D and near-term commercialization opportunities. Traditionally, solar research parks have only been available to large well-capitalized companies; however, by providing free or low-cost access to start-ups and early-stage innovators, The Park will increase the growth capacity of both small and large businesses alike.

We anticipate significant expansion of The Park in the next 2-3 years in order to meet increasing demand created by organizations working to meet their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Companies that want to serve those customers need a large-scale environment in order to prove their products. The Park will super-charge their growth by enabling faster and more reliable product development.

A Model for Rural Colorado

When successful, The Park will provide a model for other rural colleges seeking an innovative way to meet their sustainability goals while fostering local economic growth. It represents a best-of-breed collaboration between education, advanced industry, and community.

Precision Agriculture Collaboration Initiative

The proposed Precision Agriculture Collaboration Initiative (PACI) received $200,000. The initiative will assist the commercial growth of both large and small Colorado businesses in six of Colorado's advanced industries by targeting opportunities in the overlooked and underserved agriculture sector-particularly for high-value and perishable crops such as fruits, vegetables and hemp. Agriculture is one of Colorado’s key industries and the essential elements are in place along the Colorado front range for the emergence and growth of an innovation-led agriculture and food industry cluster (Graff, Berklund and Rennals, 2014). However, given the production complexities of agriculturel, plus the added challenges with high value and perishable crops, substantial customer and market insight is required to accelerate technology adoption and business growth in this nascent market segment for Advanced Industry companies

PACI will organize ongoing collaboration between Colorado companies and universities developing technologies in the six Advanced Industries, and the growers, processors and shippers of agricultural products operating principally in the Western U.S. Involving national research programs and commercial and academic stakeholders, the initiative also will promote opportunities for applied research and tech development focused on the pressing issues in the high-value ag sector, driving additional business and employment growth for the state.

PACI will coordinate with existing programs in Colorado focused on technology incubation and commercialization, bringing lessons learned and best practices on how to engage the high-value crop industries in other Western states. It will thereby complement existing programs in Colorado with new, focused market management and applied R&D activities towards the goal of establishing a regional Center of Excellence for precision agriculture, food supply chains, and the associated disciplines of natural resource management and sustainability.