Penn State President Eric Barron accepts challenge to work with Centre County business community

Penn State University President Eric Barron speaks during a CBICC luncheon Thursday at the Nittany Lion Inn.
Penn State University President Eric Barron speaks during a CBICC luncheon Thursday at the Nittany Lion Inn. CDT photo

Vern Squier, president of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County, challenged Penn State President Eric Barron to “run with” the chamber to create an economically stronger Centre County.

Barron accepted.

He addressed members of the chamber Thursday afternoon at a luncheon at the Nittany Lion Inn, where he unveiled plans to work with the business community to help make that happen.

“This is music to our ears,” Squier said.

Barron said that a main focus is on the university’s role in economic development and student career success.

His plan, he said, includes enhancing community partnerships, improving programs that support entrepreneurs and rewarding entrepreneurs willing to try something new.

“If you have all these different elements, just think of how great economic success will be,” Barron said. “We want to transform State College as a business destination, not a place just known for education.”

He said the the university could provide the workforce to make the economy grow.

Among Barron’s plans is a new “Student Innovation Foundation” that would allow staff to assist students in setting entrepreneurial goals.

Barron said he hopes at least one-third of graduates would stay in Centre County to work or build their businesses through this foundation.

“We want to help them realize this is a place they can be successful,” Barron said.

CBICC spokeswoman Lesley Kistner said Penn State already is a valued partner in the “collective work being done within the community to move the economy forward,” and has been supportive of the chamber’s mission to strengthen the local economy.

“The business community is encouraged by President Barron’s vision for how the university can be a catalyst for economic development, and for his expressed willingness to work together with the chamber and other partners to achieve this goal,” she said. “Our mission as a chamber … is a thriving private sector that can stand arm in arm with Penn State to produce results that other university communities seek to emulate.”

Kistner said the chamber believes that continued collaboration will make local economic growth possible.

The chamber and Penn State currently partner on economic development programs such as the chamber’s business incubator at Technology Park and TechCelerator — shared space and business and market research services to help assist entrepreneurs in converting business ideas into reality.

“It is certainly a positive sign that President Barron specifically addressed the idea of entrepreneurship and enabling more research-driven start-ups,” Kistner said.