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Innovation, broadband, higher education initiatives get state support

April 04, 2019

Innovation initiatives are seeing increased funding in some states as legislatures across the country begin to finalize budget bills and other legislation. SSTI continues to monitor these developments and this week we cover budget bills in Idaho that saw small increases to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, as well as increases in the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and STEM Action Center, and new funding for a computer science initiative. South Dakota will see an increase in funding for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and West Virginia passed bills creating an SBIR/STTR matching grant program, support for community and technical college tuition assistance, expansion of broadband service, and other innovation-related initiatives in its budget that passed earlier in March.  


Idaho Gov. Brad Little recently signed several appropriations bills that affect the state innovation economy-focused initiatives, including:

  • $366,000 for TechHelp Idaho, the state's MEP center, which represents about a $10,000 increase in state funding over the current fiscal year allocation of $356,500;
  • $686,700, also an increase over the $673,000 appropriated in FY 2019, for the state's Small Business Development Centers; and
  • $4.695 million for the Idaho STEM Action Center to support STEM-related opportunities for student and educators. FY 2020 funding for the center represents a slight increase over the $4.676 million that was appropriated in the current fiscal year.

Little had requested that the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship, whose funding had been drawn down over the last few fiscal years, be restored to $7 million in funding, which lawmakers approved. In addition, lawmakers also approved $1 million the governor requested for a Computer Science Initiative.

South Dakota

Gov. Kristi Noem signed the state’s FY 2020 budget this week, approving increased funding for economic development and technical education. Specifically, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is seeing its total funding increase by about $6 million to $57 million for the fiscal year.* The new appropriations appear to largely reflect funding for a $5 million rural broadband initiative, which was included in Noem’s recommendations in January. The office is decreasing funding by about $1 million for the state’s science authority, which exists to help operate the underground Fermi Lab research center in the state, but the state says this reduction is simply to match planned expenses.

The state’s technical institutes are seeing a 2.5 percent funding increase, which approximately matches the 2.9 percent tuition increase (to $121 per credit hour) that the schools approved last week.

WV Gov. Justice signs bills to support innovation, broadband, and tuition-free community college

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a flurry of bills last week, three of which offer much needed support for the Mountain State’s innovation economy. Among the 24 total bills signed by the governor, three stand out in particular: HB 2550, which creates an SBIR/STTR matching grant program; SB 1, which offers tuition assistance for students at community and technical colleges; and, SB 3, which expands broadband services in the state’s rural areas.

HB 2550 provides two types of support for innovative small businesses. The bill will provide $2,500 for “WV Phase Zero” grants to companies or researchers submitting SBIR/STTR applications, as well as matching grants of up to $100,000 for Phase I awardees, and up to $200,000 over two years for Phase II recipients.

“This is impactful, economic development legislation that will assist West Virginia technology companies create jobs, diversify our economy and spur entrepreneurism,” said Anne Barth, executive director of TechConnect West Virginia said in a press release.

The SBIR support funds will be administered by the state’s recently established Entrepreneurship and Innovation Investment Fund, part of the Department of Commerce’s West Virginia Development Office, which was established by last year’s HB 4558.

Late last month, the governor also signed SB 1, which offers tuition assistance to students at two-year community and technical colleges. Prospective students apply for loans and scholarships, and the state will cover the final gap of their tuition payments. Like other free tuition programs across the country, the goal of this program is to remove the financial barriers to skill attainment for young learners or transitioning adults to land better-paying jobs.

A third bill, SB 3, seeks to expand broadband in the state’s rural areas. The new law allows companies to use existing public rights-of-way to install broadband equipment. The bill also encourages utilities to explore the feasibility of using existing electrical distribution systems to support broadband development.

Earlier in March, the West Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a $4.6 billion FY 2019-2020 budget. The budget includes an earmark for 5 percent raises for the state’s teachers – a contentious topic in West Virginia – and also increased funding for higher education. The budget provides $10 million for the aforementioned grants for free-tuition at community and technical colleges. Additionally, the budget includes $20 million in general revenue, plus another possible $5 million from surplus, for one of the governor’s signature proposals, “Jim’s Dream.” This funding will be used for equipment and vocational training, with the goal of combining drug addiction prevention with workforce training.


The article was updated 4/8/19 to reflect that SD GOED's increase was just more than $6 million.

Idaho, South Dakota, West Virginiastate budget, sbir, broadband, workforce