As many know, in 2015, the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County and Penn State signed an agreement to work collaboratively on economic development. More than a symbolic gesture, the Memorandum of Agreement highlights the value of a town and gown relationship in which the community and the university bring respective strengths and resources to the table in order to collectively influence economic growth and business investment in Centre County.
Since the signing, the community and the university have been working in partnership like never before. With Invent Penn State and the university’s focus on economic development, companies are taking notice. The announcement by UK-based Morgan Advanced Materials to locate its first North American Carbon Science Center of Excellence here was just the start. More recently, the CBICC joined with Penn State in announcing another project — Pittsburgh-based RJ Lee Group’s selection of Centre County for business expansion.
However, more than just companies are taking notice. The Penn State/CBICC MOA is also serving as inspiration for other university communities across the nation that desire a more coordinated approach to local economic development.
Through the CBICC’s involvement with the University Communities Committee of the national Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives — and other forums — we’ve been able to socialize the value of university/community collaboration, and how to best cultivate that synergy.
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It’s having an impact.
On Nov. 1, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the University of Alabama, along with other partners, signed a similar MOA, a process that the West Alabama Chamber president said was tremendously aided by what was learned from our efforts.
The West Alabama Chamber, in retooling its five-year economic development program of work, even named the CBICC one of three “Best in Class” chambers for benchmarking purposes, in part due to the MOA with Penn State.
Elsewhere, Kansas State University and the Manhattan (Kansas) Chamber of Commerce have also entered into an economic development partnership agreement, again inspired by efforts in Centre County.
The MOA demonstrates what is possible in the university/community relationship.
Centre County continues to receive national attention as a hub for innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. State College was named No. 10 on the list of Best Cities for Entrepreneurs to Live and Launch by Entrepreneur Magazine. More recently, Bloomberg BusinessWeek recognized the community as one of the top “Silicon Valley without the downsides” locations. It’s equally as encouraging to know that the collaborative efforts that are helping to develop and grow this dynamic ecosystem are also being acknowledged beyond our borders.
Vern Squier is president and CEO of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.