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Federal funds flow to Northern Nevada for lithium workforce development

A consortium led by UNR was designated as one of just 12 hubs for investment.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
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In late October, Reno was named one of 31 Tech Hubs by the Commerce Department — a designation given to less than 10 percent of applications as a site worthy of federal investment to diversify the growth of key industries geographically. 

Northern Nevada is at the epicenter of the Biden administration’s economic agenda — there’s been growth in manufacturing jobs, the lithium loop is expanding and its mining-based economy is being repurposed for the 21st century clean energy boom.

Lithium is a key piece of the administration’s economic theory — domestically producing a critical mineral to power the electrification of America’s energy grid that Biden wants to supercharge by 2030.

The News of the Week: Tech Hub Phase II

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) were on hand in Reno on Tuesday to announce a nearly $21 million federal award for the Lithium Loop Tech Hub.

Led by UNR, the Tech Hub designation makes the project eligible for federal funding, available in stages, from the Economic Development Administration. The aim of the Tech Hub program — created in the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act — is to invest in industries outside of the country’s coasts that the U.S. wants to become more globally competitive in, lithium batteries being one of them.

Released in waves across five years, the funding is intended to bring together industries, local governments, labor and educators to strategically grow the lithium loop, in the case of Northern Nevada, equitably for its workers and the region’s existing population.

“Our goal is to empower the Nevada Lithium Batteries and Other EV Material Loop, which is already a center of excellence, with the resources it needs to build and sustain the workforce necessary to make this technological ecosystem globally competitive,” Raimondo said in a statement to The Nevada Independent.

Of the 31 Tech Hubs, 12 were selected for Phase II funding. This latest grant will provide for workforce development — one of the challenges regional companies have faced in scaling up their business. Specifically, it funds partnerships with local community colleges, unions, state agencies and the industry to widen the talent pipeline, the inclusion of Native American communities as stakeholders and STEM-related occupational outreach.

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval, the president of UNR, said the consortium includes more than 75 partners strategically positioned to bolster the industry.

“With the funding we received today from the EDA, combined with the generous funding from the Nevada State Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, we will invest in targeted and aggressive business creation, attraction, retention and expansion efforts designed to close identified gaps in this emerging industry sector across our state,” Sandoval said in a news release.

The Nevada Angle

Of the industries the Biden administration wants the U.S. to be more competitive in, lithium battery manufacturing and recycling has the added advantage of being a target of multiple agencies.

The industry and region has received targeted funding through grants and loans in Northern Nevada from each of the Biden administration’s signature domestic laws — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS.

Through the infrastructure law, electric vehicle and battery companies, such as Lyon County’s Lilac Solutions, have received grants and the region has received millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements and a broadband buildout. The Inflation Reduction Act has incentivized billions in private investment from regional players, including Tesla, in addition to allowing companies working in clean energy to claim tax credits. And CHIPS, of course, is powering the Tech Hub.

In tandem, the White House is sending a clear message — it wants clean energy in Northern Nevada to succeed.

“[These laws] are all working together to really accelerate investments and growth in battery storage and the electric vehicle supply chain manufacturing in Nevada,” a senior administration official said in an interview. “We really want to see Nevada continue to be a leader in this area and help more people access good paying jobs in this industry.”

Stakeholders in Northern Nevada were pleased at the announcement, with laudatory statements coming from federally elected officials, Gov. Joe Lombardo (R) and leaders of the Nevada Battery Coalition, the Nevada Mining Association and Nevada Department of Native American Affairs.

The Biden administration believes its various pro-union rules, such as the modernization of wage floors for federally funded projects, can provide a degree of stability to new jobs created in the lithium industry.

This stage of the Tech Hub funding is about broadening access to jobs in the lithium loop. The senior administration official listed industry-specific education incorporated into high schools, working with communities colleges to build pipelines to lithium jobs and partnering with unions to build out registered apprenticeship programs to ensure sufficient training for lithium-related jobs.

The Impact

Accommodating growth also means ensuring the region is well-resourced to handle it — from transportation to education to housing, in particular. Already in Reno, housing costs have risen sharply, with home ownership remaining out of reach for many and rental costs becoming increasingly prohibitive.

The White House points to investments in housing made by the 2021 American Rescue Plan as evidence that the administration has a holistic view of how to equitably grow the lithium loop. And the Tech Hub program is structured to bring together a wide variety of stakeholders, from unions to tribes to community colleges, under the banner of UNR, to ensure such concerns are discussed.

But the delivery of such wraparound services will remain an open question as the funding works its way into the region.

Raimondo said the program is designed to bring long-lasting opportunities to the region sustainably by identifying under-resourced regions where key industries already exist, and prioritized applicants, such as UNR, that factored sustainable growth into its planning.

“The Tech Hubs Program at its core is built on the principle that we need to focus our economy on empowering middle-class families,” Raimondo said. “The Tech Hubs Program does that by bringing good-paying jobs to regions that have historically been limited to major metropolitan areas and making them available to Americans in their own backyards, whether they’re in Reno, Nevada or Manchester, New Hampshire. We’re working to break down systemic economic barriers that have often held Americans back from entering, staying, and rising through the workforce.”

Around the Capitol

⛰️About Ash Meadows — Led by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), all five of the Democrats in Nevada’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asking the department to permanently protect the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge by prohibiting mining on all federal land in the Amargosa River watershed.

Located in Nye County, Ash Meadows is a rare desert oasis habitat — and near proposed lithium mines. 

☀️DOL turns up heat on extreme heat In news Nevadans can use, the Department of Labor proposed a rule to protect workers in extreme heat. The rule would require employers to prepare extreme heat plans, including actions to take in case of injury and for illness prevention, related to extreme temperatures.

Cortez Masto has proposed legislation to codify protections for workers in extreme heat through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

What I’m Reading

Fox Las Vegas: VP Kamala Harris traveling back to Nevada

Back so soon? Looks like #WeMatter.

The Nevada Independent: Will Trump’s idea to end taxation on tips catch on?

If you’re the waitress who allegedly gave him the idea, hit my line!

Las Vegas Review-Journal: Was Trump-Biden debate a game changer? Don’t ask Nevada politicians.

Pleading the Fifth.

Notable and Quotable

“As a professor of political science, I don't have words for how dangerous and undemocratic the SCOTUS Immunity decision is. No person, especially not the President, should be above the law.

Dina Titus, on the Supreme Court’s ruling that presidents have immunity from prosecution for official acts


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