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Penn State, CBICC Partner To Foster Local Economic Development

In one of his first formal agreements since announcing a $30 million investment to spur economic innovation, President Eric Barron partnered with the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County to sign a memorandum of agreement “to enhance economic and workforce development in Central Pennsylvania.” More than 250 businesses, community and university leaders, and elected community officials gathered at the Penn Stater for the official announcement, capped by a joint signing of the memorandum by Barron and CBICC President Vern Squier.

The agreement will work to benefit the entire Centre County region, and puts forth a set of goals and responsibilities that Penn State and the CBICC will uphold to promote economic growth.

Though somewhat broad, amongst Penn State’s pledges, the university will “leverage Penn State entrepreneurial initiatives into economic engines in our local communities,” and facilitate recruitment opportunities to produce a competitive development portfolio, according to a press release. It will further work with the CBICC to market the region as an economic hotspot and promote investment by engaging interested alumni.

“Together, we will create a powerful path to economic development, with strong local and state impact,” Barron said in the release.

CBICC will reciprocally provide entrepreneurial development opportunities to university students and “identify and coordinate a community response to critical factors necessary to produce a competitive economic development portfolio.” It will also market INVENT Penn State — Barron’s $30 million investment — and further promote the region to investors.

“There is much that can be accomplished for the long-term betterment of the county and the region by a strong relationship between the business community and the academic community,” Squier said.

Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey noted the university has already paired with both the government as well as local and large businesses to promote entrepreneurial innovations. He cited the New Leaf Initiative, a downtown space where student and community entrepreneurs can gather to work on creative projects. On a larger scale, the university and General Electric have assumed a multimillion dollar collaboration that pulls knowledge from various Penn State colleges with the goal “of producing tangible benefits for the natural gas industry and for communities related to that industry.”

These efforts are nothing new, said Barron.

“This is what it means to be a public university, and this is what it means to fulfill the expectations of a land grant university,” he said. “Together we can improve the quality of life in this community, and together we can improve the quality of life in this commonwealth.”

Barron cited multiple Penn State accomplishments to not just stay economically competitive, but to thrive in the recessionary and post-recessionary economic environment. Grants and contracts are up 17 percent from last year, and he introduced the six teams selected for the Summers Founders Program: six groups, all with at least one Penn State student that will be funded with $10,000 to pursue their startups this summer.

“We want to do more for this great state,” he said. “We aim to do it through partnerships and strategic investments in entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Mitch Robinson, the president of student entrepreneur group Innoblue, received one of the $10,000 grants for the Summer Founders Programs after he pitched his startup. Called Resume Ruby, the resume editor designs and formats one’s resume based on one’s goals. It’s applicable for college students, but Robinson hopes to grow the company to fit more fields and a broader audience in the near future. He said he benefited from New Leaf when he first walked on campus.

“If you see from what it was two years ago, it’s night and day,” he said. “We’re one of the top 50 entrepreneurial schools in the world, it wasn’t like that when I started here.”

Of the new partnership and greater effort to connect Penn State to the larger community, Robinson was enthusiastic and thinks it will promote efforts like his.

“It’s truly amazing, there’s nothing like that in the world, especially coming from a large institution,” he said. “We’re working to build things.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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