WSU lands $2 million grant from U.S. Economic Development Administration


Matthew Kelly

NIAR Executive Director John Tomblin speaks at a news conference Friday announcing a $2 million grant from the EDA.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced Friday that the Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding Wichita State a $2 million grant to purchase equipment “needed to support regional manufacturing growth and training.”

“This investment will help Wichita State University spur new manufacturing ventures in the region while training workers to support this resurgent industry,” Ross said in a Department of Commerce press release.

The investment will help WSU establish the Automated Technology Laboratory for Advanced Structures (ATLAS) through the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR).

“You’re going to be hearing ATLAS a lot from us,” said John Tomblin, NIAR executive director and WSU vice president for technology transfer, at a news conference held in WSU’s Aviation Testing Laboratory.

“I really appreciate the EDA’s foresight in seeing the economy of Wichita and the manufacturing drive that we have here,” Tomblin said.

ATLAS will investigate the development of manufacturing protocols for automated fiber placement and automated tape laying for aircraft systems, according to a university press release.

Tomblin said that means teaching robots machine learning.

“These robots are a different type of robots,” Tomblin said.

“The robots will actually be able to think and actually get smarter. Every time they make a part, we want them to get smarter.”

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, who was on hand Friday for the news conference, said the EDA’s investment will spur on the aerospace and aviation industries in Kansas.

“It will boost the concentration we have for aerospace and aviation activities,” Moran said.

“In my view, this is one more step in making certain that Wichita remains the Air Capital of the World.”

According to grantee estimates, the project is expected to create 150 jobs.

“Those jobs will be a mixture of jobs — many of them will be in manufacturing, some will be in engineering, and some will be in business in the private sector,” said WSU Director of Strategic Initiatives Debra Franklin, who wrote the grant. “Early on, some of the jobs are going to be located here at the university.”

Franklin said manufacturing jobs will include designing, programming, and maintaining robots, as well as servicing and improving automated systems.

She said jobs will eventually “migrate into the private sector.”