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Penn State Announces Economic Development Partnership

by on May 01, 2015 2:30 PM

Penn State President Eric Barron has made economic development a focus of his presidency, and he’s just taken a major step to bring that focus into focus.

Penn State and the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County announced a new partnership on Friday, which Barron says will “help our commonwealth bloom.”

Vern Squire, CEO of the CBICC, says Penn State and the local business community have had a mutually beneficial relationship for years, but this formal partnership elevates that relationship to a whole new level.

Squire calls the partnership a “long-haul initiative” to help grow new startups, attract investors and existing business to State College, and infuse new economic life across the state through the communities around Penn State’s 24 commonwealth campuses.

Barron says the first step in the plan is to create an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” in State College and University Park that brings student entrepreneurs together with university faculty, business leaders and government initiatives to help grow ideas into startups, and startups into fully fledged businesses in the Centre Region. 

While this is similar to business incubator programs already in place, Barron wants to “go way beyond” a simple incubator. This will help students refine ideas to bring them to market, take them through the legal process of starting a business, give them important market and government connections, and even provide office space to work out of. 

Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey says this plan will not only benefit students and young entrepreneurs, but it will also help Penn State stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving economy.

“Our students have grown up in world where you can be successful almost overnight thanks to instant communication and social media, which our students recognize and are very good at,” Sharkey says.  “In a lot of ways, this is us as institution catching up with our students, and that is really exciting.”

But helping new businesses become a reality is only one part of the plan. According to the memorandum of agreement between Penn State and the CBICC, the two organizations will also place a new focus on recruiting businesses and getting them to move into the area, expanding entrepreneurial support services to more Penn State campuses and promoting government policies policies that encourage economic growth across the state.

The partnership also ties into an initiative called Invent PSU that Barron launched back in January. The university is investing $30 million dollars – some of it one-time, some of it recurring – in research and entrepreneurship in industries such as energy, manufacturing and medicine. Much of that money comes from interest on existing investments, and Barron says he’s excited to “put that money to work.” 

“This is what it means to be a land-grant university that combines excellence in teaching, research and service, and what it means to be a good partner,” Barron says. “Together we can improve the quality of life for everyone in this commonwealth.”

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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