Automated-Connected-Electrified (ACE) Coalition Keeps on Truckin’

Authors: Patrick McHugh

March 18th, 2024

One day you may pass an automated big rig rolling through a mountain pass along I-81 in southern Virginia that owes part of its design, testing, and manufacture to what’s happening right now along the same stretch of road.

After receiving strategic planning funds from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) under Phase 1 of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC), the Virginia Automated-Connected-Electrified (ACE) Transportation Cluster has secured additional investments to cultivate next-generation manufacturing and transportation sectors in a region along the Appalachian mountains in western and southern Virginia.


One of the underappreciated features of several recent federal investments in place-based economic development is the emphasis on building capacity and partnerships. Even though the ACE coalition did not ultimately receive a larger implementation grant under the BBBRC program, the resources provided during the planning and capacity-building stage helped galvanize a group of private, public, nonprofit, and educational institutions to position southern Virginia at the forefront of next-generation transportation and manufacturing.

Covering an area stretching from the New River Valley to Lynchburg, the BBBRC coalition provided a platform for regional collaboration and strategic economic development planning. One initiative that benefited from the BBBRC planning process is Dock to Door, a coalition of more than 85 partners working to help goods move seamlessly through “a fully connected, resilient, environmentally sustainable, and equitable transportation system.” The coalition also secured a $500,000 GO Virginia grant, matched by an additional $250,000 in non-state resources, to help companies to grow and develop a regional smart manufacturing cluster. Funds will also be used to deliver hand-on training for manufacturing workers and help companies to incorporate smart technology into their industrial processes. Through the GO Virginia grant, the partnership has built a system to provide customized support for companies and access to a network of education and training providers.


The ACE coalition also leveraged the BBBRC planning process to get the inside lane for an EDA Tech Hubs Strategy Development Grant, which was announced in October of last year. The Tech Hubs proposal is more focused on advanced manufacturing but built from the coordinating and planning efforts that emerged from the BBBRC process and includes many of the same partners (see below for a full list of the Tech Hubs’ consortium applicant members). "As the initial convenor of the Tech Hubs consortium, it was evident the collaborative framework established by the BBBRC helped our partners to develop a highly competitive application and come together under a relatively tight timeline. Collaborative projects, and the relationships that form along the way, become building blocks that give rise to new opportunities,” said Kevin Byrd, executive director of the New River Valley Regional Commission.

Automated freight hauling is coming and investments being made right now could help southern and western Virginia to be a key driver in the next evolution of transit and transportation.

Virginia Tech Hubs Consortium Members

Private Sector

  • Hollingsworth & Vose, an advanced materials manufacturing company that operates in Floyd County
  • MELD PrintWorks, a spinoff of MELD Manufacturing
  • Fastech, a 3D printing firm based in Danville
  • Volvo Trucks, including its Dublin Virginia facility
  • 2C innovation commons, a collaborative of innovative industrial companies based in Blacksburg.
  • GENEDGE, a manufacturing consultancy offering a range of services including manufacturing technology and process improvements, supply chain, and workforce development

Educational institutions

Economic and workforce development organizations


Local governments

This blog was prepared by RTI using Federal funds under award ED22HDQ3070079 from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.