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Super abrasive machining drives growth in State College

Miniaturization in the automotive and industrial markets is what drives State College's Super Abrasive Machining Innovation (SAMI). 

"In the automotive business, for example, innovative technologies are ever increasing vehicle power and performance," explains CEO Rocco Petrilli. "[This allows] for smaller and more compact components and systems whose lighter weight drives further fuel economies."

The result is a growing demand for complex precision components -- many formed with powdered metal and other metal-forming technologies -- that maintain tight tolerances. Over the past 30 years, the weight of powdered metal parts in the average car has grown from about eight pounds to more than 50.

But powdered metal technology and other metal forming processes like forgings and castings will not reach their fullest potential without "a truly disruptive material removal process application that parallels the net shaping advantages proliferated by these… advancements," explains Petrilli.

Thus the development of super abrasive machining, a novel process that combines the capabilities of grinding with the speed, precision and cost productivity of machining. 

"Whereas the established culture would lead design engineers and procurement professionals to specify a complicated subassembly requiring several parts that are separately machined, ground, finished and assembled, the use of super abrasive machining can reduce the number of parts and the number of assembly steps," says Petrilli.

With a Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern Pennsylvania investment made in September, SAMI is undertaking a marketing campaign to tout super abrasive machining as a disruptive technology that achieves cost savings, boosts productivity and insures quality control for the industry. 

Source: Rocco Petrilli, Super Abrasive Machining Innovation
Writer: Elise Vider

Titusville sketches a downtown arts and crafts incubator

Officials in Titusville are taking first steps towards creating a downtown arts-and-crafts incubator.

Deb Eckelberger of the Titusville Community Development Agencies (TCDA) describes the project as "a win-win…a way to fill a vacant downtown location and to showcase the wealth of talent in this area."

A wide array of artists, crafters and artisans -- jewelry makers, photographers, alpaca wool providers, spinners of yarn, handmade soap providers, wood crafters, maple syrup makers, bead and glass artists and more -- have expressed interest in taking space at the former Angeli Winery Store.

The approximately 3,000 square foot space would house microbusinesses, giving the vendors a year-round retail presence, and freeing them from reliance on holiday and craft show sales. The incubator could also leverage the reuse of an adjacent, one-time restaurant.

"The two locations could work well together," says Eckelberger.

Establishing the incubator is a true team effort. Titusville Redevelopment Authority (TRA), TCDA’s economic development arm, owns the building.

"We are uniquely positioned to work together with the artisans and crafters, the City of Titusville, local community organizations -- Titusville Industrial Fund Inc., Titusville Council on the ArtsTitusville Chamber of Commerce and Titusville Renaissance Inc. --  and with our Northwest Partnership for Regional Economic Performance partners," explains Eckelberger.

In addition, TCDA is working with the Gannon Small Business Development Center to provide business support services to the vendors.

Source: Deb Eckelberger, TCDA
Writer: Elise Vider

Philadelphia's EnviroKure turns chicken waste into organic fertilizer

The words "Philadelphia" and "agricultural products" don’t usually go together, but the growing company EnviroKure is making organic fertilizers near the city's Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.

"Agriculture is of course a major industry throughout Pennsylvania," says company president and CEO Mark Lupke. "We located our pilot plant in Philadelphia for several reasons: access to raw materials, access to key personnel, engineers, and scientists, a great transportation system, and industrial facilities and zoning that were amenable to the operation of a fertilizer production plant. Not to mention that we are proud Philadelphians!"

EnviroKure produces liquid organic fertilizers with a proprietary technology that upcycles chicken manure by eliminating harmful pathogens and phosphorous, and refining the liquid for use by large-scale organic farming and natural turf management operations.

"Organic farmers are in need of a highly refined premium liquid organic fertilizer in order to increase their yields and adopt the latest and most technologically advanced agricultural methods," explains Lupke. "Poultry farmers are facing increasing restrictions on how they handle an overabundance of chicken manure; environmentalists and government officials are increasingly concerned about the pollution in the Chesapeake and other waterways caused by the excess phosphorous naturally occurring in manure."
From its 30,000-square-foot pilot plant, EnviroKure has already seen demand for its products extend beyond the mid-Atlantic, shipping by the tanker-load to Vermont, and by 300-gallon totes to citrus groves in Florida. The company recently completed a first round of funding (including an investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania) and is in discussions with several state agencies for the completion of a full-scale commercial plant by January 2017. The company is also entering a strategic partnership with a large independent fertilizer distributor and receiving strong interest from major organic growers.

"Our immediate goal is to gain increasing support from growers by demonstrating the quality and efficacy of our…product line," says Lupke. "Our long-term goal is to build multiple plants in agricultural areas to convert waste into the most valuable organic fertilizers currently on the market. Our vision is clear. We intend to be the first truly national manufacturer of USDA certified liquid organic fertilizers."

Source: Mark Lupke, EnviroKure
Writer: Elise Vider

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA names seven top innovators

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP) will honor seven innovators who have achieved success through Ben Franklin funding and assistance, have helped others to achieve success, or have improved their businesses through innovation. The annual Ben Franklin iXchange will take place on Thursday, May 7.

BFTP/NEP named Hometown’s Highwood USA as the company that best exemplifies entrepreneurial achievement. A manufacturer of extruded-plastic, synthetic-wood products for outdoor furniture, hot tubs/spas, decks and other exterior lumber uses, the company "demonstrates the successful leverage of Ben Franklin support to accelerate the growth of a young firm," said BFTP/NEP in a statement. "Founded in 2003, Highwood proactively and continuously innovates its processes, introduces new products, and identifies and develops untapped niches in the marketplace…Through thoughtful planning, bold strategy and skillful execution, the firm continues to grow, providing high-value jobs in Schuylkill County for years to come."

Slatington's Luminaire Testing Laboratory (LTL) was honored for its success as a BFTP incubator graduate. In 1989, LTL was the first company to locate in Allentown’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. In 2010, the owners sold the company to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the well-known international electrical testing company. The founder recently launched another new company.

"The LTL story demonstrates the importance of business incubators in providing support to early-stage firms," explained BFTP. "It portrays a successful business exit, executed by a founder who was able to attract an international business to the region that continued to create and retain good jobs. Finally, the LTL story illustrates the commitment of a serial entrepreneur who is now developing a second venture."

LifeAire Systems in Allentown will be honored for product innovation. The company’s revolutionary air purification systems "will impact a continuum of patient care, beginning with the protection of the embryo, to the infant in the neonatal intensive care unit, to the patient in the operating room, and to the elderly in long-term care facilities."
Wilkes-Barre's EthosGen, meanwhile, is revolutionizing the $1 billion renewable energy market with a patented and proprietary Thermal Energy to Electric Power System. The company best demonstrates "a 'break-the-mold/ approach to integrating new or existing technology into its business," said BFTP/NEP.
BFTP/NEP also recognized Wilkes-Barre’s Medico Industries, which produces metal parts for oil and gas drilling companies, the automotive industry and other customers, for manufacturing achievement. "A focus on constant improvement has enabled the company to establish a truly flexible manufacturing facility that has economically transitioned through many changes in industrial needs," explains BFTP/NEP.
Andrew Stanten, president of Altitude Marketing in Emmaus, "an unwavering supporter of regional entrepreneurship [who] freely shares his expertise and experience widely with startups, established manufacturers and students in northeastern Pennsylvania" was named winner of the entrepreneurial advocate award. Edward J. McCann, Jr., retired COO of the Berks County Workforce Investment Board, will be honored for his "strong vision, dedication and commitment [that] have helped the Ben Franklin Technology Partners accomplish its goals."

The awards dinner is set for May 7 at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.

Source: BFTP/NEP
Writer: Elise Vider

Virterras's greenhouse in northeastern PA will deliver fresh produce year-round

Virterras, a company that develops sustainable technologies in the energy, food and water industries, is planning a large state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse in northeastern Pennsylvania.

"Today, over 65 percent of all fresh produce in the U.S. is imported," explains Virterras President Walton Clark. "To survive the long-haul shipping, it's picked before it is ripe. Varieties are selected for shipping, maximum shelf life and visual appeal, but are completely lacking in taste and have limited nutritional value. To bring back taste we need to be producing locally." 

The first planned crop?

"Great-tasting local tomatoes picked at absolute ripeness for better taste and nutrition," he enthuses.

Several sites are under consideration for the first phase of the greenhouse, which will cover 10 acres under glass and is projected to create up to 40 jobs. Construction is projected to begin later this year, with the goal of expanding in multiple phases and over time to other Pennsylvania locations, boosting overall employment to up to 140. 

According to Clark, Virterras chose northeastern Pennsylvania based on the state's pro-business stance, access to the East Coast U.S. markets and help from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/NEP), which recently made a $50,000 investment in the company. 

"Virterras’ site selection in Pennsylvania, innovative facility design and environmentally sustainable growing practices will provide naturally ripened, fresh produce to local stores with significant improvements in product taste and nutrition," said BFTP/NEP when announcing its loan. "The market for fresh, local food is growing rapidly…and Virterras is part of a growing trend of bringing back local agriculture and jobs to Pennsylvania."

Virterras, whose corporate office is temporarily located in Moosic, Penn., acquires or partners with developers of new technologies, targeting industrial production methods and resources for energy, food and water.

"Virterras defines success in terms of environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social responsibility," explains Clark. "By combining these principles with innovative technology, Virterras develops projects such as the greenhouse project."

Source: Walton Clark, Virterras
Writer: Elise Vider

Out of the Office, into the Kitchen: Allentown's Sarbari provides restaurant-purchasing software

Restaurants and food service providers, from small family-owned eateries to large restaurant groups, all devote significant resources to purchasing food and supplies. 

Sarbari, based in Allentown, aims to get restaurant personnel out of the office and into the kitchen, with a software solution that organizes supplier data, streamlines the ordering process, boosts productivity, and saves money on food and labor costs.

Founder and CEO Sebastian Serra started his career as a produce supplier in the North End of Boston, eventually starting his own company.

"After selling that company to a larger competitor, I saw a need for restaurant owners to have the ability to organize the pricing and product information from all the suppliers they were using," he recalls. "By starting with an Excel spreadsheet and creating formulas that helped them shop more intelligently, the restaurants saw savings in both time and money immediately."

That spreadsheet eventually led Serra to Allentown's Trifecta Technologies, which developed Sarbari’s web-based software program, and, most recently, to a new headquarters in downtown Allentown.

"We're excited to be part the amazing revitalization going on here," he says. "With our new space we now have plenty of room to operate. We're currently working to add new members to our operations team, and the sales team will expand into New York and Boston in the coming months. We expect to add five to 10 new jobs in the next six months."

Working with its clients, Sarbari has identified several new features for the next software update, scheduled for this summer. 

Source: Sebastian Serra, Sarbari  
Writer: Elise Vider

Genomics research collaboration launches; statewide network eases big data transmission

Penn State and Geisinger Research are collaborating on a massive effort to connect the genome data of 100,000 anonymous patients with their medical histories, in order to identify the genetic and environmental roots of human disease.

According to Marylyn Ritchie, director of the Center for Systems Genomics in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State, "this collaboration with Geisinger provides an enormous opportunity for faculty, graduate students and post docs across Penn State to engage in discovery that seeks to improve human health."

The new program was developed to harness the data resources being generated through a large-scale DNA-sequencing project at Geisinger in collaboration with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals; at least 100,000 Geisinger patients will be sequenced over the next five years.

"Geisinger has a unique and robust resource for big-data analysis and Penn State has phenomenal data-science researchers. It is a perfect combination," said Ritchie, who was named founding director of the new Biomedical and Translational Informatics Program of Geisinger Research. Ritchie was recruited to Penn State in 2011 as part of a genomics and computational biology cluster hire that brought more than 30 faculty members to multiple colleges at Penn State.

In an unrelated announcement, Geisinger Health System said it has become the first health care organization to be connected to the Pennsylvania Research and Education Network (PennREN), a public network exchange built and managed by the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER) to provide broadband connectivity, foster collaboration and promote innovative use of digital technologies. 

"Geisinger is a PennREN pioneer in the health care arena, and its connection to our high performance network will enable opportunities for innovation, such as transmission of big data for genomic research, telemedicine, video consultation, remote patient monitoring and access to specialist care," said KINBER Executive Director Wendy Huntoon. 

"With [Geisinger] massively using genomics in its research and clinics, a dedicated, high-speed, data-transfer system like KINBER makes very large data-intensive collaborations easier," added Raghu Metpally, a bioinformatics scientist at Geisinger’s Sigfried and Janet Weis Center for Research.

Besides Geisinger, KINBER's membership includes Bucknell, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh.

Source: Penn State and Geisinger Health System
Writer: Elise Vider

'Philadelphia Liberty Trail' raises Philly's national profile

Writer and world traveler Larissa Milne conjures a troubling statistic, based on the years she and her husband Michael have spent in cities across the globe, writing for the Inquirer and their own award-winning "Changes in Longitude" blog.

Outside of Philadelphia, Larissa estimates, "85 percent of people don’t know what a cheesesteak really is."

So their new book, Philadelphia Liberty Trail, published by Globe Pequot Press last month, includes a sidebar on "cheesesteak etiquette," while recommending some favorite local spots for tourists ready to venture beyond the neon lights of Pat’s and Geno’s.

"It’s a little bit different than the average guidebook that’s out there," explains Larissa. "The publisher wanted us to produce a creative book that was similar to…a book they’ve had out for many years on the Boston Freedom Trail."

Despite having more Revolutionary historic sites than Boston, Philadelphia lacks the equivalent of Boston’s famous Freedom Trail route. The couple set out to write the book that might create one.

While Liberty Trail includes advice on visiting slightly more far-flung sites such as Valley Forge, Fort Mifflin, Bartram’s Garden, and historic houses in Germantown, it focuses on the Revolutionary War history of Old City and Society Hill, and invites tourists beyond the usual stops at Independence National Historic Park. Some of the highlights in their book are the Physick HouseChrist Church and Washington Square. There's also advice on where to stay and where to park, how to go on foot or take SEPTA, and info on restaurants that might not otherwise be on the radar for visitors.
Michael, a New York native, and Larissa, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, lived at 11th and Pine Streets before making an unusual decision in 2011. They sold their house, quit their jobs, gave away their stuff, and began traveling the world and writing along the way. They still don’t have a permanent address, but talked with Flying Kite about their new book from their current perch in Arizona.
Larissa, who’s also a consultant with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, loves to fill visitors in on the real story of Pennsylvania Hospital, America’s oldest hospital, which many pass on bus tours, but few actually visit.
"Benjamin Franklin was very instrumental in getting funding for that hospital in the early 1750s," she says, after the local governing bodies declined to support it. Franklin spearheaded an effort to draw contributions for the project from local citizens: "It was like a Kickstarter campaign in 1750."
The Milnes hope their book can help make Philadelphia a worldwide tourist destination, not just for tri-state day-trips, but for visitors who will stay, eat and shop in the city for days.
"I grew up in New York, and the image of Philadelphia back in the old days was, well, it’s kind of a drive-by tourist destination," recalls Michael. "You didn’t stay overnight, you drive down, you see the Liberty Bell, you see Independence Hall, you get back in the car, you leave."
But with major publications like Fast Company magazine and The New York Times recognizing Philadelphia as a top global destination, the Milnes believe it’s a perfect time for a new kind of Philly guidebook. And after seeing the world for the last several years, they still insist there’s nowhere they’d rather settle.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Larissa and Michael Milne,
 Philadelphia Liberty Trail 

Wash Cycle Laundry forges a new path for socially conscious investing

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia startup Wash Cycle Laundry (WCL) closed on a major new loan from the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF) which may help the company create hundreds of new jobs and nab new contracts on the way to major expansion.

According to founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano, the $450,000 loan isn’t just important for what it will help WCL achieve, but also in the new model it will help forge for foundations who want to invest in mission-based businesses.

WCL, now operating in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well as Philly, was founded here in 2010. The company provides laundry and linen rental services for institutions, businesses and residents, with environmentally-friendly high-efficiency machines and powerful bike trailers for hauling. The company also focuses on hiring its employees from vulnerable populations such as formerly incarcerated people and longtime welfare recipients. The company currently employs almost 50 people, with a retention rate topping 80 percent in workers' first six months.

"What [this] capital allows us to do is come to the table as a ready partner," explains Mandujano. When WCL negotiates with potential clients like a hospital system or university, whether or not the company has the capacity to handle the contract in terms of staffing and inventory has always been a big question. "What this investment has allowed us to do is…go out and close more of these institutional contracts."

The terms of the loan are unique, and give WCL a powerful incentive to expand its socially conscious mission. The current interest rate on the loan is 5 percent, but WCL has five years to reduce that interest rate drastically.

"We’re talking about the net number of jobs that we create," says Mandujano of the loan’s "five-year time clock" from its January 21 closing date. If WCL can create 200 jobs with the help of the new capital, interest on the loan will drop to three percent, and if it can create 500 new jobs within five years, the interest rate will go down to just one percent.

"I’m really excited that this financing aligns our financial interests with our mission interests," he enthuses. "If we’re better at achieving our mission, we’re also financially rewarded for that."

And for both WCL and DSVF, a bigger goal is creating a model that will work for other "purpose-driven businesses" and the foundations who might be interested in similar "impact investing," but do not know how to select the right company, set the right goals, and hammer out the paperwork.

According to Mandujano, "we wanted to create an instrument that that we thought could be copied both by other foundations that want to invest in Wash Cycle, but also just by foundations interested in this type of investing in general."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry

Eleven Southeast PA companies share $1.9 million in new funding

Eleven early-stage companies -- everything from a bagel bakery to a company that prints living tissue -- are recipients of $1.9 million in new investments from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Philadelphia's BioBots expects that within 20 years its 3-D bioprinters will allow patients with organ failure to receive custom replacement organs built by and constructed out of their own cells.

Another Philadelphia company, EnviroKure Inc., uses proprietary technology to produce liquid organic fertilizers. Their unique product upcycles chicken manure in a fully sustainable, highly efficient process to meet the needs of the fastest growing fertilizer markets in the United States: large-scale organic farming and natural turf management.

In Chester County, Essential Medical is developing X-SealTM and MANTATM, two innovative vascular closure devices for both small bore and large bore femoral closure. Vascular closure devices (VCDs) are used to close incisions in the leg artery after cardiac catheterizations.

Philadelphia's Fitly is a Digital Health Accelerator company. Fitly’s mission is to empower anyone who needs to eat healthy by making cooking easy, delicious and affordable. 

LifeVest, a Philadelphia company, sits at the intersection of physical and financial health. Using evidence-based science and behavioral economics, LifeVest motivates users to invest in their own wellbeing by rewarding them for learning about, tracking and improving their health.

Livegenic in Philadelphia delivers technology to enhance the customer service environment. It provides an easy way to gain a real-time video from the customer’s point of view through something most customers already have: a smartphone. Livegenic helps organizations reduce support costs, improve customer and employee satisfaction, and minimize business-related risks.

Mitochon Pharmaceuticals is a Delaware County biotech startup that focuses on developing drugs targeting the mitochondria for a host of serious diseases. The company’s development programs are primarily focused on neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases including Huntington’s, Batten Disease, Stroke, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson Disease and severe burns, and secondarily on metabolic disorders due to over-nutrition (diabetes, obesity and NASH). Ongoing research has linked these diseases to various malfunctions of the mitochondria. By correcting them, Mitochon aims to open the way for a broad range of disease modifying therapies.

Montgomery County’s NETMINDER produces a unique protective coating, offering an environmentally acceptable way to protect aquatic gear such as salmon, cobia, and bluefin tuna nets; oyster cages; trays and bags; crab pots and other gear from the high costs of fouling.

Also based in Montgomery County, PAST offers its Software as a Service (SaaS) to help doctors efficiently distinguish patients who can safely use controlled substance prescription medication from those who require more complex care or additional safety considerations.
Locating in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood, Sweet Note Bakery is a gluten-free and allergen-free bagel manufacturer.

Montgomery County’s Zuppler is a global Internet commerce solution for restaurants and caterers. Zuppler powers millions of mobile and web food-ordering transactions using their proprietary SaaS platform. This enables consumers to order food from their preferred restaurants and caterers using any device via the restaurant’s branded website or mobile app.

Source: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania 
Writer: Elise Vider

Pittsburgh's Idea Foundry adds advanced materials to its mission

Idea Foundry, a nonprofit Pittsburgh acceleration and commercialization organization, is adding a new arm focused on advanced materials. Expected to launch its first round in May, the program joins other Idea Foundry accelerators in healthcare and life sciences, social enterprise, entertainment and education technology, and water. Participants will be eligible for financial support, hands-on business development services and market collaboration opportunities with industry players.
"The new accelerator’s focus is fairly broad," says Director of Innovation Nehal Bhojak. "We will consider innovations in all areas of material science."

Initially those will include bioengineered materials, advanced materials such as synthetic engineered materials or super alloys, coatings and polymers. As the accelerator becomes established, Bhojak envisions an even more expanded focus.

Concurrent with the launch announcement comes the dissolution of the PA NanoMaterials Commercialization Center.

"The PA Nano Board agreed that nanotechnology ventures were more accurately defined as part of the large advanced materials field, which led to the new program to be administered by Idea Foundry," explains Robert Kumpf, a former PA Nano board member. The organization ceased to exist as of January 1.

Bhojak says Idea Foundry will "carry forward the original mission of the PA Nano Center through our tried and tested accelerator model." Besides managing the dissolution, Idea Foundry will use its own financial and team resources towards the new accelerator.

"Idea Foundry has always supported material science innovations and we have quite a few advanced materials companies in our portfolio," she adds. "The new accelerator will enable us to continue that support with more sector-specific focus."
Source: Nehal Bhojak, Idea Foundry
Writer: Elise Vider

With a big NSF grant and new accelerator, UPenn takes technology from lab to market

The University of Pennsylvania's new Penn Center for Innovation, described as "a dedicated, one-stop shop for commercial partnering with Penn," has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to foster entrepreneurship and commercialization.

Under the three-year grant, Penn is launching the Penn I-Corps Site, a new business accelerator, in collaboration with Wharton's Mack Institute for Innovation Management, Penn Medicine’s Center for Healthcare InnovationBen Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP/SEP) and the City of Philadelphia.

In its grant announcement, Penn said the Penn I-Corps Site will "support translation of research areas into the marketplace by providing educational programming, financial advice and strategic guidance."

The accelerator gets underway this summer with 30 faculty-student interdisciplinary teams creating commercialization plans for their early-stage technology. The goal is to help the teams launch new ventures by the end of 2015 with well-developed business models that position them to apply for further NSF funding.

The Summer Accelerator Program is open to Penn faculty and students as well as local entrepreneurs. An organizational meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 24 at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia).

A committee comprised of investors, experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts will select the participants; the program will launch in May. The teams will have access to lectures and hands-on activities, guidance on developing and testing their business models, up to $2,500 in NSF funding for prototyping and other expenses, and connections to an extensive entrepreneurial network.

"We’re excited to work together to build a network of mentors and advisors to help the teams gain real-world experience in bringing technology from the lab to the market," explains RoseAnn Rosenthal, president and CEO of BFTP/SEP, "and to build a pipeline of investable enterprises that can creative economic value in our region."

Source: The Penn Center for Innovation
Writer: Elise Vider


Philadelphia Macaroni to the Rescue: Harrisburg acquisition saves 43 jobs

Philadelphia Macaroni Company, a more than 100-year-old, family-owned company, is operating a new pasta-making plant in Harrisburg, saving 43 jobs in the process.

The company makes dried pasta and noodles at the plant, which was previously operated by Unilever. The Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC recently reported that Unilever had been contemplating vacating the facility. 

"Philadelphia Macaroni Company’s purchase agreement and business plan to operate from this facility effectively saved 43 full-time jobs in the city of Harrisburg," explained the Chamber.

"The Harrisburg plant was recently updated with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment," said Philadelphia Macaroni President Luke Marano, Jr. when announcing the plans last year. "This facility, complemented by its dedicated and professional workforce, is a valuable asset critical to the future development, growth and success of Philadelphia Macaroni Company."

Philadelphia Macaroni Company was founded in 1914 in Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Today, a fifth generation of the founding family runs the company, headquartered in Philadelphia. In addition to the new Harrisburg plant, the company operates factories in Warminster, North Dakota and Washington State, and mills durum and hard red spring wheat at its Minot Milling division in North Dakota. Besides being one of the country’s oldest pasta makers, the company is one of the largest industrial pasta manufacturers in the U.S.

Company spokeswoman Linda Schalles declined to reveal terms of the sales agreement in Harrisburg, but according to the Capital Region Economic Development Corporation, the chamber’s economic development arm, the company recently closed on a $450,000 Enterprise Zone Loan towards the purchase of machinery and equipment at the facility.

More hiring is expected at the plant, Schalles adds.

Source: Linda Schalles, Philadelphia Macaroni Company; Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC
Writer: Elise Vider

Seven BIG IDEAS compete for $200,000 in prizes from Ben Franklin Technology Parnters

Seven startups in Northwestern Pennsylvania are gearing up to pitch their innovations at the annual BIG IDEA competition sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania (BFTP/CNP).  

"Many people don’t realize that Ben Franklin makes investments in small manufacturers," said BFTP/CNP in announcing the competition. "This year, in order to remind companies to think about Ben Franklin as a resource when planning to introduce new or improved products to the market, our BIG IDEA Contest will focus on helping small manufacturers and entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real business opportunities."

The finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of independent judges in April, with the winner announced in May. The winner’s prize package is valued at $200,000 and includes $50,000 in cash, an Innovation Adoption Grant up to $25,000 to work with a PA-based research university, priority access to a low-interest $100,000 loan from BFTP, 60 hours of Innovation Engineering project time from the NW Industrial Resource Center as well as access to an Advanced Manufacturing Apprentice to assist in prototype development or pre-commercialization services, a one-year pass to seminars offered by BFTP's eMarketing Learning Center  and a free consult (and proposal prep) on how to access federal R&D grant money from the Innovation Partnership.

BFTP/CNP President and CEO Stephen Brawley says the response to the 2015 BIG IDEA competition was overwhelming.

"There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy in this area," he enthuses. "We had so many great applications, it was difficult to choose just a few finalists. It takes guts to put your ideas out there to be judged by strangers, and we applaud all who did. Those who did not make it into the finals, should feel free to contact Ben Franklin's Erie office if they want to pursue other options."

This year’s finalists are:Source: Liz Wilson, BFTP/CNP
Writer: Elise Vider

New report quantifies advanced manufacturing in the Commonwealth

A new report by the Brookings Institution offers a detailed look at how high-technology industries are faring in Pennsylvania, and how the Commonwealth compares to the rest of the nation.

The 50 industries, which Brookings defines as those that spend substantially on R&D and employ at least 20 percent of their workforce in STEM-intensive occupations, include the manufacturing, energy and services sectors. This so-called advanced industries super-sector is "crucial to future prosperity in the United States, but face[s] substantial competitiveness challenges," said the report.

As a whole, Pennsylvania had nearly 478,000 full-time workers (or 8.1 percent of all jobs) employed in advanced industries in 2013, ranking 23rd among the states. These direct jobs, with an average annual salary of more than $80,000, supported another nearly 382,000 jobs in other industries. Among the fastest growing statewide industries between 2010 and 2013 were oil and gas extraction (up 41.8 percent), foundries (up 13.9 percent), railroad rolling stock manufacturing (up 12.4 percent), and iron and steel products (up 12.3 percent).

Both Philadelphia at 43rd and Pittsburgh at 45th ranked high among larger metros in advanced industries employment.

"Nobody has deeper roots in industrial innovation than the Pittsburgh region," says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and its affiliates. "Advanced industries are in our DNA, and we believe they are critical to our future."

Brookings singled out Pittsburgh’s Aquion Energy, a Carnegie Mellon spinoff and maker of sodium ion batteries and energy storage systems, in a video.

Pittsburgh’s "sophisticated technology assets and experienced workforces…epitomize the kind of synergies a city can provide to a new company," explains Mark Muro of Brookings.

Among small metro areas, Chambersburg ranked 43rd, with advanced industries accounting for 10.5 percent of its jobs.

Source: Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, Allegheny Conference on Community Development
Writer: Elise Vider

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