Centre County is generally well recognized as a desirable place to raise a family. It’s safe, unemployment is low, the elementary and secondary schools are strong and recreational opportunities abound. We benefit from local government and law enforcement agencies that are progressive and professional and the community is serious about its responsibilities to welcome diverse populations warmly. None of this would be possible without a strong economy and for the most part ours is insulated from the whip saws of the economic cycle.
The presence of a world-class public research university enriches our lives in countless ways. At our fingertips there’s access to a variety of high-quality educational opportunities, rich and varied cultural events, fiercely battled athletic competitions, and modest but steady growth. Penn State’s presence also provides a welcome economic boost to the economy, one that ripples across the entire commonwealth and beyond.
It’s hard to think of how such a great community could be improved … were it not for the fact that finding a job here proves to be a challenge. Our children who grow up and look for jobs locally more often than not end up doing their job searches outside of the area and then living outside of the region. Young professionals graduating after falling in love with the region during their four years at Penn State face a similar fate. Those lucky enough to land an entry-level role find upward mobility and potential for increased, family sustaining, earnings in limited supply. It is not uncommon for them to gravitate to areas where the economic base is more diverse and sufficiently larger to provide a wider variety of choices, settling in points across the country … and even across the globe.
The Invent Penn State initiative kicked off last year by Penn State President Eric Barron is a welcome beacon of light toward an often forgotten area that needs to be improved, dramatically. In Barron’s words, “The aim of Invent Penn State is to drive job creation, economic development and student career success by connecting researchers with the people who can help bring their discoveries to the marketplace. Penn State is developing a culture that encourages, nurtures and rewards entrepreneurship in all fields of study.”
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Through his vision, Barron is challenging all of us to work harder at taking good ideas and turning them into market-ready products. Barron has the experience and the intellectual horsepower to recognize that “great minds need support.” He also recognizes that the process of growing startup companies more often than not requires more than good ideas and well-meaning intentions. It requires dicey things like venture capital, attorneys, mentors and, in today’s global economy, sophisticated business acumen, not to mention collaborative workspace. Others in the region recognize the same needs. The Chamber of Business and Industry in Centre County signed a memorandum of agreement with Penn State and pledged to partner to promote economic and entrepreneurial development in the county. In addition the CBICC formed a committee called CBICC Connect; this along with State College Young Professionals are working to help engage and entrench young professionals in the community. New Leaf and co.space are helping to provide collaborative workspace and efforts are paying off. Just recently State College was ranked the 10th best city to be an entrepreneur by livability.com.
Encouraging as these early success stories are, it will be important to sustain this positive and promising effort going forward and to market the opportunities we have countywide. We are excited, for example, to see that an Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference has been scheduled at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center for Oct. 6-7. The conference will attempt to join promising technology companies with investors seeking ground-floor investment opportunities. We hope some of those opportunities will support activity right here in central Pennsylvania.
Companies like Restek, Videon, Actuated Medical, Blue Mountain and many others have made a conscious decision to locate in our region and provide employment opportunities for young professionals. More work needs to be done to replicate the success these companies are seeing. Continued support by community, government and economic leaders will be a key factor to moving forward. While the possibilities are without end, Barron is realistic about the need to invest for the long term, knowing that the outcomes he is advocating will benefit “generations of Pennsylvanians.” A long-term investment strategy here in Centre County will pay countless dividends. Increasing commercial space availability, innovatively looking at partnership options and cost per square foot as the Moshannon Valley Economic Development Partnership in Philipsburg has done and ease of travel into and out of the region are all important factors when industry is determining where to locate. We can make the plan now to improve these areas and begin reaping the benefits of an expanded economy sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, the outcomes will, of course, benefit many others, but those of us looking to keep our families close hope a statistically significant amount of them will remain right here in the region so that fewer of our children and grandchildren have to move to points distant to pursue and achieve their dreams. Maybe we will even see some return.
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