The University of Connecticut received a $2 million federal grant to operate an advanced manufacturing center focused on assisting minority-owned manufacturing businesses.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency provided the grant, which will be paid over five years. The to-be-established MBDA Advanced Manufacturing Center will provide minority manufacturers with access to assets and resources to help them cut costs, increase sales, and create and retain jobs, according to UConn.

“The project’s purpose is to provide technical, business development and manufacturing assistance to minority-owned businesses in order to help them expand their capacity to grow and operate efficiently,” UConn Interim President Andrew Agwunobi said at an event Wednesday at the UConn School of Business Learning Center in downtown Hartford.

The grant will be administered through the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, which is hosted at the UConn School of Business.

UConn’s grant is one of four the Commerce Department’s MBDA awarded nationally. The new MBDA Advanced Manufacturing Center will connect minority-owned manufacturers with experienced professionals to help improve their business strategy and operations, assist with financial analysis, and connect them with other resources they may need, according to UConn.

During the recently-held event, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the grant reflects Connecticut’s focus on promoting business in the state, and said it’s past time state and federal officials specifically targeted aid at minority-owned businesses.

“It’s overdue given our commitment to entrepreneurship and small business, especially with a governor and lieutenant governor who know the business community and care deeply about it,” he said.

Partners of the new advanced manufacturing center that will provide assistance to manufacturers include CONNSTEP, PRIMEX, Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.

Focusing on boosting minority-owned manufacturing companies makes particular sense right now in Connecticut, where the state considers manufacturing a key economic driver, and when federal COVID business relief funds have disproportionately gone to companies with white and male owners, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Wednesday.

“It’s exciting to see so many manufacturing companies owned by women and people of color,” Bysiewicz said. “When we saw [Paycheck Protection Program funds] being distributed, it was unfortunately distributed in an inequitable way; 80% of the businesses that got money in Connecticut were white owned, and 80% of them were owned by men.”