USDA Biofuel Production Grants to Sustain Jobs at Renewable Energy Facilities in 39 States

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced $8.8 million in grants to biofuel production facilities in 39 states sustain jobs.

USDA biofuel grants

USDA biofuel grants (Photo –

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Grants are made under this program to biofuels producers based on the amount of advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass.

To date, USDA has made $308 million in payments to 382 producers in 47 states and territories. These payments have produced enough biofuel to provide more than 391 billion kilowatt hours of electric energy.

The latest round of $8.8 million in funding is going to renewable energy facilities in 39 states. Most of the recipients are producers of advanced biofuels using wood pellets, biodiesel transesterification, ethanol, and some anaerobic digester facilities.

For example, Scott Petroleum Corporation in Itta Bena, MS, is receiving a $13,165 payment to produce more than 2.6 million gallons of biodiesel from three million gallons of waste, non-food grade corn and catfish oil and poultry fat. The biodiesel produced is distributed throughout Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Quad County Corn Processors Co-Op of Galva, IA is likewise receiving a $2,011 payment to convert more than 39 million gallons of corn kernel fiber into 660,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol. The company converts the fiber into ethanol and other products using a process developed by their own researchers.

Investments in renewable energy and the biobased economy are a leading part of USDA’s commitment to mitigating climate change and promoting a clean-energy economy. All told, USDA has invested $332 million since Jan 2009 to accelerate research on renewable energy ranging from genomic research on bioenergy feedstock crops, to development of biofuel conversion processes and costs/benefit estimates of renewable energy production.

Also since 2009, USDA has developed new markets for rural-made products, including more than 2,500 biobased products through the BioPreferred program.

USDA’s Rural Development agency has been driving U.S economic development through $11 billion worth of investments since 2009 to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses, along with financing for 185,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and support for projects that have helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.

Also during this period, USDA has helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes, and funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities.

UN Launches Initiative to Promote Use of ICTs to Support Transition to Smart Sustainable Cities

Two United Nations entities have teamed up to launch a new global initiative to advocate for public policy that will promote the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a catalyst for the transition to smart sustainable cities.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

UN Sustainable Development Goals (photo –

The new initiative, led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), has been named the United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) program.

U4SSC will assist the response to Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” The new initiative will focus on the integration of ICTs in urban operations and build on existing international standards and key performance indicators.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said in a UN news release that “ICTs have become central to innovation in almost every sphere of social and economic activity, making collaboration essential in maximizing the contribution of ICTs to sustainable development.”

ECE Executive Secretary Christian Friis Bach likewise noted that “The digital revolution can help us create intelligent transport, smart energy systems, resource efficiency and transparent and open societies. It can help us create sustainable development.”

Bach added that to achieve this we need trust and predictability, and we need common and neutral standards that can work across borders and technologies.

U4SSC was launched at the ITU-ECE Forum held in Rome earlier this month. The forum resulted in the Rome Declaration, which presents a 10-point manifesto for the transition to smart sustainable cities. The declaration promotes the use of internationally agreed key performance indicators and technical standards in service of sustainable development objectives in the urban context.

As a start, ITU and ECE presented a set of key performance indicators they have developed to measure the “smartness” and “sustainability” of cities, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Many cities, including Dubai, Singapore, Manizales, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Valencia, Rimini and others, have already agreed to trial these key performance indicators.

As of now, U4SSC is open to all UN agencies, municipalities, industry, academia and other relevant stakeholders.

On September 25th 2015, countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each of the 17 SDGs has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. You can see the full list of the 17 sustainable development goals and summaries of their targets at

Better Buildings Challenge Update – Over $1.3B in Energy Cost Savings, Three New Accelerators

At the third Better Buildings Summit, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and the U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro shared progress updates and new commitments by Better Buildings partners, along with the announcement of three new Accelerators.

Better Buildings

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The increase in the number of Better Buildings Challenge partners and energy efficiency commitments have tripled since 2011, resulting in energy cost savings that now exceed the $1.3 billion mark and the avoidance of 100 million tons of harmful carbon emissions. Not to mention 2.1 billion gallons of water saved last year alone.

In 2011, 60 organizations representing almost two billion square feet of commercial and industrial building space took up the Better Buildings Challenge to improve the efficiency of their building portfolios by 20 percent or more. The financial community committed to almost $2 billion in energy efficiency financing.

There are now 310 Better Buildings Challenge partners who are set to achieve goals of at least 20 percent energy reduction within 10 years. Together, the amount of real estate and U.S. economic development investments and clean energy job creation they represent is massive. This includes 34,000 buildings and facilities covering 4.2 billion square feet (equivalent to 73,000 football fields), along with thousands of jobs and $5.5 billion dollars in energy efficiency investment.

Since the Better Buildings Challenge was launched, it has catalyzed more than $10 billion in public and private sector financing commitments to improve energy efficiency. The program has also enabled the creation of proven approaches, with over 400 solutions shared online in the Better Buildings Solutions Center.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement that “Thanks to a dedicated drive to actively create and share the best energy efficiency solutions, Better Buildings partners have dramatically cut their energy waste and saved more than a billion dollars since the Better Buildings initiative was launched five years ago.”

HUD Secretary Julian Castro likewise noted that housing can play a vital role in addressing the realities of climate change.

To complement Better Buildings Challenge partners, organizations engaging in Better Buildings Accelerators are part of unique collaborative networks designed to advance specific innovative policies and approaches as a way to accelerate investment in energy efficiency.

Already, more than 150 organizations in ten Better Buildings Accelerators have focused on distinct market challenges from outdoor lighting, energy performance savings contracting, and data centers.

To build on this, Sec. Moniz and Sec. Castro announced three new Better Buildings Accelerators.

One is the Clean Energy in Low Income Communities Accelerator that will work with local, state, and national partners to lower energy costs in low to moderate income communities.

The second one is the Combined Heat and Power for Resiliency Accelerator that will work with states, communities, utilities, and other stakeholders to support and expand the utilization of combined heat and power technologies for improved efficiency and enhanced resiliency.

The third one is the Wastewater Infrastructure Accelerator that will work with state, regional, and local agencies to strive toward a 30 percent reduction in their participating energy efficiency water resource recovery facilities and integrate at least one water resource recovery measure into their practices.

USDA, EPA Select Five Communities For Cool & Connected Economic Development Pilot

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have announced the selection of communities in five states that will participate in the Cool & Connected planning assistance program.


Broadband (photo – Sean MacEntee/flickr)

The Cool & Connected pilot program is an innovative initiative that will help these five communities use broadband service for downtown revitalization and economic development.

The five selected communities are – Georgetown, DE; Leon, IA; Montrose, CO; Toledo, WA; and Tullahoma, TN. These Partner communities will receive direct technical assistance from a team of federal experts working side by side with residents and local leaders to create customized solutions.

The selected communities will be developing strategies and an action plan for using planned or existing broadband service to create connected, economically vibrant main streets and small-town neighborhoods.

USDA support for this pilot is being provided by the Rural Utilities Service. Since 2009, USDA has awarded $6.7 billion for almost 550 projects to improve telecommunications infrastructure in rural communities. EPA support for Cool & Connected communities will be provided through the EPA Office of Sustainable Communities, which helps communities develop in ways that protect public health and the natural environment.

Georgetown, DE will make use of the federal assistance and resources bring provided to explore strategies to leverage new broadband infrastructure serving county facilities to provide public internet access, and as a Georgetown economic development tool to attract and retain businesses downtown.

Leon, IA will likewise develop a strategy for implementing a free Wi-Fi zone in its downtown square to draw more economic activity and provide low-income residents with internet access. Tullahoma, TN will also receive technical assistance to market its downtown as a free Wi-Fi zone and develop a physical work-share space to complement new infrastructure investments, and add to the growth of downtown businesses.

Montrose, CO will combine its new broadband service with other downtown assets such as a farmers’ market to promote local food access, accelerate main street development, and attract visitors. Toledo, WA will utilize their new broadband network to support business and tourism downtown.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that “The new Cool & Connected program will help these small-towns use broadband to provide new opportunities for people and businesses in rural areas.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy added that “By supporting economic growth through broadband investments, rural communities are creating vibrant, thriving places that improve human health and the environment.”

Texas, NC Win Site Selection Prosperity Cup For Most Competitive State Level Economic Development Dept

In its latest issue, Site Selection magazine has introduced the Prosperity Cup, awarded this year jointly to the Economic Development & Tourism Division of the Governor’s Office in Texas and the North Carolina Department of Commerce, recognizing them as the most competitive state-level department of commerce or economic development.

NC Commerce wins Site Selection Prosperity Cup

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The rankings are based on an index of 10 criteria, including the total number of new and expanded facilities in the state, capital investment and total number of new jobs created, that measure corporate project activity and business climate attractiveness.

Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement that this ranking confirms once again that North Carolina is an outstanding place to do business. “Our state offers companies the competitive factors they need to be successful, which is why North Carolina enjoys the fastest growing economy in the nation,” added Gov. McCrory.

Site Selection magazine noted in its publication the breadth, depth and diversity of the economic development portfolios of Texas and North Carolina, and also pointed out that both states’ official agencies have in common strong ties with their non-profit partners the Texas Economic Development Council (TEDC) and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).

North Carolina Commerce Secretary John E. Skvarla, III added that “We have a superior tax and regulatory environment, highly skilled workforce and outstanding quality of life in addition to a wide variety of economic development programs to assist business with growth opportunities.”

Here’s the top 10 states listed by Site Selection in their annual Prosperity Cup (formerly the Competitiveness Award) rankings – Texas/North Carolina; Tennessee; Kentucky; Georgia; Michigan; Indiana; Ohio, South Carolina; and Iowa.

In its May issue, Site Selection has also published what is now known as the Mac Awards for Excellence in Economic Development (formerly Top Groups), so named in honor of Site Selection founding publisher Mac Conway, and awarded to the top U.S. economic development groups.

The metro and micropolitan EDOs mentioned are not ranked, but have been listed based on unique ways they are addressing critical issues in their communities, in addition to the total number of jobs created and total amount of investment, as well as per capita investment and jobs created in the region.

The top metro groups mentioned are the Austin Chamber; Charleston Regional Development Alliance; Chattanooga Area Chamber; REDI Cincinnati; Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Chamber; Detroit Economic Growth Corporation; Greater Houston Partnership; Knoxville Chamber; Louisville Forward; Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; and Greater New Orleans Inc.

Site Selection Editor in Chief Mark Arend said in a statement that “Those appearing on these rankings have demonstrated with actual project numbers and other measures that they have the location attributes most in demand by capital investors.”

National Small Business Week Encourages Entrepreneurs to Dream Big, Start Small

This year, the U.S. Small Business Administration is holding National Small Business Week from May 1-7, with recognition and educational events throughout SBA’s 10 Regions and 68 Districts throughout the week.

National Small Business Week

National Small Business Week (photo –

Every year since 1963, SBA takes the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from across the nation through National Small Business Week. Scheduled for the first week in May through Presidential Proclamation, National Small Business Week includes events across the country and educational webinars on a variety of business topics.

President Obama and SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet continued this tradition. A Presidential Proclamation has decreed this week as National Small Business Week – “Throughout National Small Business Week, we celebrate the irreplaceable role these enterprises play in our national life by pledging to support them and equip them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.”

SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet likewise kicked off the week of events in Washington, D.C., where she is recognizing and awarding outstanding small business owners from around the country May 1 and 2. She is then continuing the week with small business events in Atlanta on May 3, Denver on May 4, Phoenix on May 5, and will finish up in California with visits to San Jose and Oakland on May 6.

The theme for this year’s National Small Business is “Dream Big, Start Small.” SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, who started three businesses (including a community bank) in Los Angeles before joining President Obama’s cabine, said in a blog post on the website that “Success in business comes one small step at a time. So dream big, take that next small step today, because the next great American success story could be staring back at you in the mirror.”

A bill (HR 713) has also been introduced by Rep. Tony Cardenas in the U.S. House of Representatives “Honoring the vital role of small business and the passion of entrepreneurs in the United States during National Small Business Week.”

There are approximately 28,000,000 small businesses that drive a major part of U.S. economic development, creating nearly seven out of every 10 new jobs and generating close to 50 percent of the nation’s nonfarm gross domestic product.

Small businesses employ 48.5 percent of the country’s private sector workforce, represent 37 percent of high-tech employment, produce 16 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms, and represent 98 percent of all exporters and produce 33 percent of exported goods.

About 22,000,000 small businesses are non-employer sole proprietorship firms, while 3,700,000 veterans are small business owners and account for 9.1 percent of all U.S. businesses. The total share of total businesses owned by women continues to increase, currently including over 7,800,000 small businesses.


NASA Awards $49.7M in SBIR/STTR Funding For 399 Projects

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected 399 projects from 259 American small businesses and 42 more research institutions that will receive SBIR/STTR funding to support the development of technologies in the areas of aeronautics, science, human exploration and operations, and space technology.


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The funding awards, with a total value of approximately $49.7 million, will enable the agency’s future missions into deep space while also supporting U.S. economic development and entrepreneurship.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages the SBIR and STTR Programs for NASA under the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).

Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for STMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement announcing the awards that these proposals represent the entrepreneurial spirit of small businesses that fuel the economy and create jobs on Main Street.

“The dollar value of these innovation projects represents an investment in the American economy,” added Jurczyk.

The agency received 1,278 proposals this year in response to its solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs. From those, NASA selected 341 SBIR and 58 STTR Phase I proposals spanning 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

SBIR and STTR programs are competitive and awards-based programs that encourage these small businesses, as well as research institutions, to engage in federal research and development, and industrial commercialization by enabling them to explore technological potential and providing the incentive to profit from new commercial products and services.

For example, one of the awardees this year is Boston, MA-based Freight Farms, Inc., whose proposal in partnership with Clemson University seeks to develop a self-sustaining crop production unit that has immediate applications for sustainable agriculture. Freight Farms’ current product, the Leafy Green Machine (LGM), will serve as the baseline for this project. The LGM is a fully-operational hydroponic farm built inside an up-cycled freight container and capable of producing yields at commercial-scale in any climate and in any season.

The STTR funding for this team will provide the ability to further Freight Farms’ research and development through design of more efficient systems with the aim of achieving independence from the energy grid. The innovations resulting from this project will serve NASA applications as well as the commercial market by providing a secure source of food to populations regardless of their climate areas, terrain, energy infrastructure, or available land.

SBIR Phase I projects receive six-month contracts valued at up to $125,000. Phase II projects are focused on the development, demonstration and delivery of the proposed Phase I innovation, last no more than two years, and are valued at up to $750,000 per award. Phase III, or the commercialization of an innovation, may occur after successful completion of Phase II.

Find out more about NASA’s SBIR/STTR funding awards and process at

GSA Fosters Economic Development With $947M Investment in Courthouse Construction Projects

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is set to begin work on eight courthouse constructions projects. GSA’s plan, which has just been submitted to Congress, seeks $787 million for new construction and $160 million for repairs and alterations to existing facilities.

Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, Charlotte, NC

Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, Charlotte, NC (photo

These projects are part of the GSA’s new vision to better align the agency’s building, leasing and relocation plans with the economic development goals of local communities, while also improving outcomes for the federal government and partner agencies.

This latest $947 million investment allows GSA to leverage the resources of the federal government and foster economic development in local communities across the United States.

The proposed spending plan will bring new federal courthouses to Nashville, TN; Des Moines, IA; Greenville, SC; Anniston, AL; and San Antonio, TX. It will also provide for new courthouse annexes in Toledo, OH; Charlotte, NC; and Savannah, GA.

Renovation projects include the James M. Ashley and Thomas W.L. Ashley U.S. Courthouse in Toledo, the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Charlotte, and the Tomochichi U.S. Courthouse in Savannah.

In addition to these eight projects, the plan allocates $29.5 million for continued feasibility studies and preparation work for Judiciary housing needs in Harrisburg, PA.

In Charlotte, GSA has been working with the City of Charlotte to exchange a 3.2-acre federally owned site for the Jonas Federal Courthouse. GSA is investing $156,160,000 for the design and construction of a new 198,000-square-foot U.S. Courthouse Annex.

When this project was announced last year as part of the launch of GSA’s Economic Catalyst Initiative, then Mayor Dan Clodfelter said in a statement that this exchange will support Charlotte economic development goals by fostering growth along transit lines and expanding the impact of other investments at the federal level.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has already provided $25 million to construct the multi-modal transit station, which will build out an annex for the city and be a catalyst for light rail.

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth likewise noted that “GSA’s exchange with the City of Charlotte to build the Courthouse Annex coupled with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s investment is truly an example of being a catalyst for economic growth.”

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and the congressional committees that authorize courthouse construction, must approve GSA’s courthouse construction investment plan before construction activities can begin.

Consortium Under Bank of America’s Catalytic Finance Initiative to Direct $8B for Sustainability Projects

A consortium of leading financial institutions and investors have announced a new partnership to direct $8 billion in total commitments toward high-impact investments in clean energy and other sustainability focused projects.


BofA CFA (photo –

The investments by the partnership will be made under Bank of America’s Catalytic Finance Initiative (CFI), originally launched by Bank of America in 2014 with a $1 billion commitment and a goal to stimulate at least $10 billion in new investment into high-impact clean energy projects through additional partnerships.

Members of the new partnership under CFI include the European Investment Bank (EIB); HSBC Group; World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC); MassMutual’s Babson Capital Management LLC; AllianceBernstein; Credit Agricole CIB; and Mirova, a subsidiary of Natixis Group.

By working together, this leading group of global financial institutions and investors can combine their efforts to increase funding and significantly accelerate the transition to clean energy solutions and advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the historic climate agreement in Paris.

CFI partners will bring expertise in a broad range of financial specialty areas. This includes clean energy infrastructure finance, green bonds, project finance, green asset-backed securities, emerging markets investment and advisory assistance, and approaches to blending public and private finance.

The CFI partners issued a joint statement noting that “Through the Catalytic Finance Initiative and this joint partnership, together we can support the transition to a low-carbon economy and sustainable growth. By providing $8 billion in commitments, we can help to advance new investment opportunities in clean energy as well as other sustainable development goals and achieve the necessary scale for a positive impact on climate change.”

Anne Finucane, vice chairman, Bank of America, said in a BofA release that “The Catalytic Finance Initiative demonstrates how all partners working together will achieve a greater collective impact.”

Bank of America originally launched the Catalytic Finance Initiative in Sept 2014 to make clean energy investments more financeable, particularly in emerging markets where project impact is often amplified – addressing other large-scale issues like health, education and job creation.

Projects announced to date by Bank of America under CFI include new energy efficiency financing in partnership with the New York State Green Bank totaling $800 million, a $204 million green project bond for wind developer Energia Eolica S.A. in Peru, and helping to structure a new $100 million facility with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Purna Saggurti, chairman of the Global Corporate and Investment Bank at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, noted that “There is more work to be done, and through this joint partnership, we will continue to find ways to leverage our own capital and spur additional investment from partner institutions to help address climate change and find commercially attractive clean energy solutions for the benefit of future generations.”

US EDA, ITA Announce Fifth Americas Competitiveness Exchange

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and International Trade Administration (ITA), in coordination with the Organization of American States (OAS) and the U.S. Department of State, have announced the Fifth Americas Competitiveness Exchange (ACE) on Innovation and Entrepreneurship will take place April 10-16.


ACE (photo –

The 5th ACE has been convened by the Inter-American Competitiveness Network (RIAC); the Government of Mexico as RIAC Chair Pro Tempore 2016-2018; the Government of the United States through the Department of Commerce and the Department of State; and the Organization of American States (OAS) as RIAC Technical Secretariat.

This ACE will bring 51 high-level representatives from 24 countries for site visits in Arizona and California. Specifically, economic development leaders from across the Americas will visit centers of innovation, universities, tech companies, public-private partnership projects, and strategic investments in the Arizona cities of Phoenix, Chandler, Gilbert, Oracle, Tucson, San Luis, and Yuma, and the California cities of Imperial Valley and San Diego.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams said in a statement that “We are pleased to have the ACE tour in Arizona and California to highlight the innovation happening in the southwest and we are excited to leverage Department of Commerce assets and connections to facilitate.”

The ACE is an activity designed for regional leaders from across the Americas to learn first-hand from successful projects, share their knowledge and experiences, identify collaboration opportunities, and create long-term trade and research partnerships, as well as to encourage the transfer of successful models that could benefit a more sustainable and inclusive economic development in the Americas.

ITA Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Operations Antwaun Griffin added that “The agenda features site visits to leading technology centers and business incubators, and discussions with public and private sector leaders throughout the southwestern United States.”

The agenda kicks off April 11 in Arizona with an introduction to the AZ-CA megaregion and an economic development primer by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Tom Guevara, along with speeches by DAS Griffin, Governor Doug Ducey, and Arizona Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson, among others.

The first two days of the ACE tour agenda in Arizona are heavily focused on visits to University campuses, facilities and projects, including a trip to the ASU Biodesign Institute, and a NEXUS program presentation at the ASU Polytechnic Campus about combining the assets of a gateway airport, the ASU Polytechnic and surrounding business and research. Also on the Arizona agenda is a tour of the Raytheon facilities in Tucson, and a tour of the Yuma Agricultural Center and Yuma Airport.

The California leg of the ACE begins April 14 with an overview of Imperial Valley by Imperial Valley EDC President and CEO Timothy E. Kelley, followed by a visit to the CALEXICO East Port of Entry, and a presentation of the economic assets of Imperial Valley.

Following a tour of Imperial Valley College, the agenda moves on to San Diego with a trip to San Diego State University campus tour. After visits to several clean energy projects including the Campo Kumeyaay Wind Farm, participants will reach San Diego for a press conference and signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation between the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and OAS.

The April 15 agenda includes visits to NOAA Fisheries Southwest, Qualcomm, UCSD, IBOSS, and a baseball game. On April 16, participants will visit naval and coast guard facilities before final remarks, which includes a closing speech by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt S. Erskine.

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