Build Back Better Regional Challenge: Southern Arizona Coalition

City of Tucson Awarded Phase One Build Back Better Challenge Grant from the Economic Development Administration

The City of Tucson was named one of 60 finalists in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Build Back Better Regional Challenge. More than 500 applicants from across the country competed for the Phase One funding of $500,000.

The award is a required first step in the competition for additional funding of up to $100 million in Phase Two. The City of Tucson is the lead applicant in a regional collaboration of under-coordinated industries to create the next growth cluster to serve our arid region—sustainable agriculture, water resources, and clean energy. The Southern Arizona Coalition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience is the embodiment of Mayor Romero’s vision for a national epicenter of climate adaptability. “The White House is looking at Tucson and Southern Arizona to lead on climate and equity. This grant funding can seed our future if we think regionally,” said Mayor Romero.

Congressman Raul Grijalva stated, “The City of Tucson is leading the way for a sustainable future. This project will create good-paying jobs for working people and help us tackle the growing threat of climate change. I am proud to support this coalition and their efforts to make our community more equitable, competitive and resilient.”

EDA challenged applicants to create a significant regional partnership that would bring together a variety of organizations, both public and private, to identify a strategy for developing and supporting industry-sector growth unique to the region. Applicants were also required to demonstrate a commitment to equity and inclusion in their proposals. The City’s initial proposal included support from 11 coalition members, 9 municipalities, tribal governments, 22 industry partners and countless additional regional assets conclusively demonstrating that now is the time to leverage momentum, gather joint resources, and make a transformative “moonshot” to propel our regional economy, and environment, in a new direction. The proposal’s unique value proposition is in its existing collection of assets, intentional equity-based framework, and the development of a reproducible model for communities to organize around climate challenges at an international scale.

Barbra Coffee, the city’s director of Economic Initiatives thinks this is what made the Southern Arizona Coalition proposal stand out. “We took the equity framework requirement very seriously when considering our approach,” said Coffee. “Rather than simply suggest projects that a small coalition of partners thought might be beneficial to the entire region, we decided to create a process to allow widespread community participation in the identification of and selection of the projects that will ultimately be outlined in the Phase Two proposal for funding.”

Phase Two proposals will be due in March and must outline implementation plans for 3 to 8 projects that support the industry sector. The coalition’s proposal identified five components in which projects would be supported that have the potential to create jobs, increase wages, reduce unemployment in vulnerable communities, and attract high-growth industries. Each one of the primary coalition members will coordinate the review of project proposals from the community in the areas of:

  • Research Innovation and Translational Technology: Led by the University of Arizona
  • Workforce Resilience: Co-led by Pima Community College and Arizona Western College
  • Entrepreneurship: Led by Startup Tucson
  • Sustainable Infrastructure: Co-Led by City of Tucson and Greater Yuma Economic Development Partnership
  • Seed Funding: Led by Community Investment Corporation

Equity partners also include the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, and Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.

“This was truly a regional collaboration,” said Startup Tucson CEO Liz Pocock. “It was amazing to see partners in our region move so quickly to come together around a shared goal in order to start this conversation. As we move forward, we plan to broaden the dialogue even more so that others currently working in these areas, or that want to work in these areas, can join the efforts and the programs can impact communities that have experienced the hardships of a pandemic and decades of disinvestment.”

“The University of Arizona is proud to partner with the City of Tucson and other members of the coalition to support use-inspired research, development, and innovation within Southern Arizona. And as the state’s designated land grant university, we look forward to working within our community on such a timely economic development award,” said Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, senior vice president of research and innovation at the University of Arizona. “Tucson is the epitome of a resilient community, and we have tremendous assets that we can leverage to bring quality jobs to Southern Arizona.”

About the City of Tucson Office of Economic Initiatives

The City of Tucson Office of Economic Initiatives coordinates the City’s economic development programs for the purpose of attracting jobs and investment to the City of Tucson. It also offers local small business and entrepreneurial assistance and encourages workforce development to foster a long term sustainable and diverse local economy. For more information or to contact the Office of Economic Initiatives, visit

About Startup Tucson

Startup Tucson is 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to transform our region’s economy through entrepreneurship and education. Startup Tucson executes this mission by providing education and culture building programs and events to grow a high-impact entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem. You can find information about the organization here For questions or comments, please reach out to Liz Pocock directly at

About the University of Arizona

The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation’s top 50 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2019 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $734 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 66 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university’s COVID-19 webpage.

About the EDA Build Back Better Regional Challenge:

The “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” is one of EDA’s many programs aimed at building strong regional economies and supporting community-led economic development. EDA was allocated $3 billion in supplemental funding under the American Rescue Plan to assist communities nationwide in their efforts to build back better by accelerating economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and building local economies that will be resilient to future economic shocks. For more information about EDA’s American Rescue Plan programs, visit

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