Economic Growth Connection, Penn State New Kensington:
Collaborating on a Digital Innovation Lab
Founded in 2000, the Economic Growth Connection (EGC) fosters economic growth and development in Westmoreland County. As a broker among industry, small business, and government entities, EGC has supported the creation and retention of more than 30,000 jobs and contributed more than $200 million to projects in the county. EGC is an active partner in efforts to redevelop the largely vacant Fifth Avenue business district in New Kensington, a city in which 23 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.
Penn State New Kensington (PSNK), founded in 1958 to serve portions of Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Indiana, and Westmoreland counties, provides affordable, quality education in a small campus environment to nearly 600 students who matriculate annually. As part of the university’s 2015 initiative to leverage its resources and entrepreneurial spirit to affect communities across Pennsylvania, branch campuses such as PSNK were encouraged to launch local initiatives that connect the campus to the local community. Two years later, EGC partnered with the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation (WCIDC) to redevelop a Fifth Avenue building that now houses The Corner, PSNK’s business incubator that provides free business workshops, mentoring, co-working space, and meeting rooms to students, educators, businesses, and community members. The Fifth Avenue location was chosen to encourage additional activity and investment in the downtown corridor, which is conveniently located for many of New Kensington’s residents.
EGC, WCIDC, PSNK, and the Foundation also have been exploring opportunities to support the region’s manufacturing sector, which employs 13 percent of the county’s workforce, many of whom work in small- and medium-sized companies that are not equipped to integrate emerging digital technologies into their operations and, thus, are at risk of falling behind competitors.
To bridge this gap, the Foundation and the other entities envision a Penn State New Kensington-led Digital Innovation Lab (DIL) that would serve as a research and learning center at which regional manufacturers can learn about and test emerging digital manufacturing technologies, network with larger-industry partners, such as Siemens, and, if situated on Fifth Avenue in downtown New Kensington, attract additional investment in the neighborhood. A Foundation grant of $4 million to EGC will support construction of the DIL, which EGC will own, while a $1.5 million grant from the Foundation to PSNK, a rent-paying tenant responsible for DIL’s operation, will provide $850,000 to support one year of DIL operations and $650,000 to purchase and install furnishings, with any unused furnishing funds redirected to support operating costs.