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Ben Franklin partnership improves Pa.’s job outlook

January 27, 2008
By State Rep. Rick Geist
We are used to hearing about Pennsylvania jobs moving south and U.S. high technology jobs moving off shore.

Forrester Research predicted in 2003 that by 2015, 3.3 million U.S. service industry jobs and $136 billion in wages will move to countries like India, Russia, China and the Philippines. Twenty years prior to the Forrester report, the commonwealth was taking measures not only to prevent the loss of jobs in Pennsylvania but also to increase higher paying jobs in the coveted technology sector.

This year Pennsylvania celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners initiative, which has become the gold standard of technology based economic development programs.

Twenty-five years ago, we envisioned great things. We never imagined a return on investment of 23-to-1 on every state dollar invested.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners has evolved into one of the most highly regarded and longest-running programs in the country dedicated to growing a state’s technology-based economy.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been created and retained in industries that pay roughly 28 percent more than the average salary in Pennsylvania.

Thousands of promising companies have been touched — many going on to become global leaders or revolutionize entire industries.

The Ben Franklin program has helped companies secure billions in financing and continues to partner to create business-critical infrastructure initiatives that fuel tomorrow’s innovation.

Its powdered metals initiative earned a U.S. Department of Commerce recognition award for bringing sound, research-based, market-driven economic development initiatives to life in central and northern Pennsylvania.

The 10-member Ben Franklin Business Incubator Network nurtures promising technology-oriented start ups. This network includes the Ben Franklin Business Incubator, winner of the national Incubator of the Year award in 2001.

To address the growing appetite for incubator space and affordable wet-laboratory facilities in the northeastern part of our state, this award-winning incubator recently expanded by opening Ben Franklin TechVentures, a state-of-the-art, 62,000-square-foot facility in Bethlehem, and is nearly full already.

Interstate partnerships like the Mid-Atlantic Nanotechnology Alliance leverage our resources with those of our neighboring states to create high-paying jobs in the commonwealth. MANA is an outgrowth of the Nanotechnology Institute launched in southeastern Pennsylvania.

BFTP centers also help traditional manufacturers innovate to become more competitive in the global marketplace.

For example, the Innovation Adoption Grant program links manufacturers in southwestern Pennsylvania with the region’s Centers of Excellence, giving them access to highly specialized scientists and engineers for research and development projects, including: product engineering and design, robotic assembly, machinery design, rapid prototyping or an industrial analysis and overhaul of existing manufacturing processes.

I am proud of how the Ben Franklin program has evolved, and emulation is the highest form of flattery. Recently, New York state pledged to remodel its system for funneling state aid to technology and biotech companies along the Ben Franklin model.

I expect more great things in the next 25 years. We are seeing exciting new advances in alternative/clean energy technologies, biosciences and nanotechnology. Pennsylvania companies are deploying the latest technologies to help sustain our manufacturing renaissance.

We continue to strengthen relationships among Pennsylvania companies, the angel and venture community, and our many institutions of higher learning to help move more of the most promising research from the lab to the marketplace.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ namesake once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” This program is proof positive, but it warrants and requires everyone’s sustained support in order to continue to fulfill its potential.

Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, was a prime sponsor of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners legislation.

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