U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development (EDA) Alejandra Y. Castillo visited Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research Wednesday to learn more about university and community efforts to transform the regional economy. Castillo, along with a delegation from the EDA and Small Business Administration, including regional administrator Vercie Lark, toured NIAR’s Advanced Technologies Laboratory for Aerospace Systems (ATLAS) alongside WSU President Rick Muma, WSU senior vice president for Industry and Defense Programs John Tomblin and WSU associate vice president of strategic initiatives Debra Franklin. The delegation learned how ATLAS uses transformative technology such as automation and machine learning to change the way manufacturers develop and produce advanced materials. Following the tour, the group took part in a ‘Coalition Conversation’ with city, county, state and industry representatives. The South Kansas coalition is a finalist for EDA’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The conversation was a learning opportunity for EDA to understand how the finalists built their coalition and created a collective vision for their region. The vison of South Kansas’ proposal, Driving Adoption: Smart Manufacturing Technologies, is to empower the equitable adoption of productivity-enhancing emerging technologies for sustainable, precision manufacturing competiveness and profitability. The conversation centered on equipping and enabling the people of the region with adequate training to meet the demand of the skilled workforce of the future through strategic partnership at all levels. “We are proud that the American Rescue Plan’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge is helping to drive place-based, cluster-oriented, transformational economic development here in the Wichita region and across the nation,” said Castillo. “I’m so excited about this moment in time for our country because when we talk about economic development – pushing the country forward – everyone’s in agreement.” The South Kansas Coalition is comprised of a regional consortium of industry, government and economic development leaders representing 27 counties in South Kansas and led by WSU-NIAR. Additional members of the roundtable discussion included Sedgwick County Commissioners David Dennis and Pete Meitzner; John Rolfe, president and CEO of the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce; Jeff Fluhr, president of the Greater Wichita Partnership; Keith Lawing, president and CEO of the Workforce Alliance of South-Central Kansas and Debra Franklin, WSU vice president of Strategic Initiatives.