EDA awards first installment of five-year $590,000 grant to Rapid Center

WCU’s Rapid Center is fully equipped with professional software and hardware that meet or exceed industry standards for product design, development and testing.

Western Carolina University’s Rapid Center, a regional source for business and entrepreneurial assistance, will gain some assistance itself in the form of a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.

An EDA University Center Economic Development Program allocation of $118,000 will support WCU’s role in advancing entrepreneurship, innovation and business expansion in Western North Carolina and is the first installment of an expected five-year grant total of $590,000.

The EDA, a bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce made $2.7 million in such grants to 22 colleges and universities in 16 states to run programs that will leverage assets to promote a sustainable economy. “These higher education institutions will work to build the public-private partnerships that are so vital to helping America stay competitive in the 21st century,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

The Rapid Center has a 15-year track record of doing just that.

“Our comprehensive network has allowed WCU to offer its engineering and business services to an unprecedented number of clients,” said Patrick Gardner, director of the Rapid Center. “Over the past five years, in partnership with the WCU College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Business and the Small Business and Technology Development Center, we’ve had more than 500 clients ranging from inventors to small-business start-ups to major manufacturers in the region,” he said. “The grant will allow us to build on the efficiencies we have collectively developed over the past five years by raising our annual targets, without changing the budget.”

Patrick Gardner is seen adjusting a three-dimensional imaging system.

The Rapid Center also has expanded its reach to include partnerships with regional councils of government and county economic development offices, Gardner said.

The University Center Economic Development Program was created by the Commerce Department to utilize university-led programs to support regional economic development strategies, especially in areas experiencing chronic or acute economic distress. Participating universities are required to devote the majority of EDA funding to respond to technical assistance requests originating from organizations located in those areas.

The Rapid Center’s offices, classrooms and laboratories are located in the Belk Building and Center for Applied Technology. Its facilities are fully equipped with professional software and hardware that meet or exceed industry standards for product design, development and testing. Through provided services, WNC clients can refine existing products, develop new ones and improve business practices. At the same time, WCU engineering students, working with faculty mentors and instructors, are able to address real-world situations while gaining hands-on experience.

“This is a transformative award for the Rapid Center and is indicative of the exceptional work and services provided to Western North Carolina by the staff of the center,” said Jeff Ray, dean of the WCU College of Engineering and Technology.

The Rapid Center is located at 387 Centennial Drive, Cullowhee. For more information, call 828-227-2560, email rapidcenter@wcu.edu or visit this webpage.