Pennsylvania's I-99 Is An Innovation Station

Learn about Penn State University's new initiative to grow innovation and entrepreneurship in Pennsylvania's I-99 Corridor.

By
Emily McMackin
On Tuesday, June 14, 2016 - 16:10

Innovators find fertile ground to grow their ideas in Pennsylvania’s I-99 Corridor, a region of more than 300,000 encompassing Bedford, Blair and Centre counties. The region has long been a hotbed for businesses on the leading edge of their fields, from value-added food producers and technologically driven manufacturers to bioscience firms working on the latest breakthroughs and IT firms developing next-generation technologies.

Located two hours from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, and less than three hours from the Baltimore-Washington corridor, the region provides easy access to East Coast, Midwest and Southeast markets via interstate, rail and air channels, as well as numerous industrial and business parks with space for development. The presence of two Penn State University campuses in the region offers another advantage for firms: access to top talent.

Businesses in the I-99 Corridor benefit from a highly skilled and educated workforce – with more than 22 percent of adults over age 25 possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher – as well as an appealing quality of life that helps attract and retain talent.

Home to a growing cluster of tech startups and new businesses emerging from existing industries and academic settings, the region has a strong network of resources to support companies looking to commercialize ideas or launch new ventures.

Engine for Innovation

As a leading research university, Penn State, which has its flagship campus in State College and its second-largest campus in Altoona, plays a major role in spurring innovation. The university has drawn $800 million annually in research funding from public and private sources over the past five years, ranking second in the nation for science and engineering research expenditures. It has also nearly doubled the number of licenses and business spinoffs from its tech transfer department in the past two years.

The university is stepping up its efforts to promote economic development and entrepreneurial growth in the region through its new $30 million Invent Penn State initiative, which seeks to expand its partnerships with local industries and increase its support for startups led by students and faculty, as well as entrepreneurs in the community.

“We know that we are generating lots of ideas and startups worth investing in, but as a public university, we can’t go it alone – we need partners in the community,” says Penn State President Eric Barron. “Our students have great ideas, but we need to mentor them and make sure they land in our community instead of going to Silicon Valley.”

The university recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County to formalize its commitment to working together toward those goals. Businesses in the area have long turned to Penn State for help with R&D, but the university hopes to strengthen industry ties with entrepreneur-in-residence programs and incubators that provide those in the community, as well as students with expertise and resources for navigating the startup process.

Not only does this effort advance Penn State’s mission as a land grant university to create jobs and prosperity for the Commonwealth, Barron says, but it also taps into a growing appetite for entrepreneurship among students.

“We are sensing great enthusiasm for it – now all we have to do is channel it,” Barron says.