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Workforce, Logistics, Location Drive Growth in Pennsylvania’s I-99 Corridor

Read about how homegrown startups and established manufacturers are finding success in Altoona, State College and throughout Pennsylvania's I-99 Corridor.

By Emily McMackin on July 6, 2015

When Todd Erdley decided to start his own tech company, he knew exactly where to launch it – not Silicon Valley, but Pennsylvania’s I-99 Corridor. A native of the region and a Penn State University graduate, Erdley felt confident he could find the resources, support and talent in the region to grow his venture into a world-class company.
He was right. Erdley’s business, Videon Central, has built a reputation over the last decade as the leading developer of media technology for automotive, in-flight, and global audiovisual industries. More than 30 million devices use its streaming media, DVD and Blu-ray technology, and the company, which employs 70, is a top supplier to consumer electronics leaders like Intel, Sony, Samsung and Qualcomm.
From its location in State College, the company achieved several industry firsts, including developing software for the first universal Blu-ray disc and HD DVD player and the first optical disc player integrated into Google TV. Erdley attributes the company’s fast growth to the region’s research-driven culture and the stream of talent flowing from one of its biggest assets, Penn State.
“Graduates go out into the world and do amazing things, but they still feel tied to the university,” he says “After doing those things, many of them are drawn back here by their strong commitment to the area.”
Penn State, whose flagship campus is in State College and second-largest campus in Altoona in Blair County, also shapes the progressive business climate, cultivating a culturally, technologically diverse atmosphere infused with concepts and ideas that create fertile ground for learning and exploration.
Building Successes
The region has supported numerous entrepreneurs who have done just that, giving rise to a roster of companies with roots that date back generations. Convenience store operator Sheetz got its start as a small dairy and deli in Altoona more than 60 years ago, and has grown to include 500 stores across six states, with plans for 1,000 more. Other homegrown innovators like AccuWeather, DelGrosso Foods and Blair Cos. have all made a conscious choice to grow in the region.
Emerging energy and technology sectors, anchored by thriving food production, life sciences and advanced manufacturing industries, are adding to the area’s diverse economy. The region sits at the heart of central Pennsylvania and the Marcellus Shale, a large natural gas deposit luring oil and gas exploration and extraction firms, and its proximity to a major research university like Penn State makes it a prime launching pad for tech-based spin-offs and startups.
Warm Welcome
Chance brought Rockland Manufacturing, a Bedford-based manufacturer of heavy equipment attachments for dozers, loaders, excavators and motor graders, to the I-99 Corridor nearly four decades ago, but its growth there has been no coincidence.
“What keeps us here is the people,” says Bill Pratt, marketing director. “We have a reputation in the industry for being the best at what we do – and that says everything about the quality of workmanship coming out of Bedford County.”
Pratt’s father and CEO, Sam Pratt, initially got stuck in Bedford while traveling through the area to scout out a location for the business, based in Florida at the time. Pratt felt so welcomed by the community that he decided to move his company there. As the manufacturer’s customer base has expanded nationwide, the location has proved advantageous, putting the firm close to East Coast, Midwest and Southeast markets and multiple interstates.
“Being right off the PA Turnpike and I-99 has served us well, and it’s not too far to I-95 and other major logistics routes,” Pratt says.
The company collaborated with Penn State to develop a prototype for its newest product, a hydraulic excavator coupler with a patented smart valve, as part of the university’s The Learning Factory, which pairs students with industry sponsors for small-scale design projects.
The financial risk of launching an enterprise in the I-99 Corridor is lower than most places, Videon Central’s Erdley says, but the region’s source of technically trained and senior-level talent is just as abundant and more stable, thanks to the excellent quality of life that keeps people there.
“You can find better talent here with deeper commitments,” Erdley says.

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