CULLOWHEE — The federal government awarded a $642,960 grant to Western Carolina University to further cooperation with businesses and emerging entrepreneurs on projects to create new jobs.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration is providing the money over five years to the school’s EDA University Center for Rapid Product Realization, in which faculty and students collaborate with commercial enterprises to develop products and processes.
U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, announced the grant Friday. “For a minimal investment by the federal government, WCU is able to develop critical skill sets among its students and support the regional and state economy through product development and entrepreneurship,” Shuler said. “This leveraging of resources produces a strong return on investment, and we are fortunate to have this program right here at home.”
The University Center links clients to a range of services, including three-dimensional design and scanning, reverse engineering and rapid prototyping and mechanical and electrical testing.
The project includes business assistance from the school’s Small Business and Technology Development Center, as well as consulting and mentoring from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
The federal funding will be used to support existing positions as the university contributes faculty resources, equipment and laboratory space to the project, said James Zhang, interim dean of WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.
Zhang said having teams of students and faculty working with companies and entrepreneurs fits well with the Kimmel School’s concentration on project-based learning.
“These projects also provide superb learning experiences for students, imbuing them with the culture of innovation, a critical need for the region,” he said.
WCU received funding from the Economic Development Administration each of the last three years to provide services to regional businesses. The university applied this year for a five-year grant and won it on a “very competitive basis,” Zhang said