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Daflure helps make net zero energy LEED-Platinum home a reality in Central PA

Justin McClure admits he’d be bending the truth if he said net zero energy homes are close to becoming a mainstream concept. But the LEED-Platinum Standard home his company worked on, the first of its kind in Central PA, is a pretty good example of what it will take to get the idea done.

The home’s location in Harrisburg’s Mount Pleasant Homes development in the diverse and historic South Allison Hill neighborhood is important, symbolic of the revitalization of the downtrodden area.  The home McClure’s Daflure worked on is the first of a 25-home development and is expected to have low to net zero energy costs by the end of the year. Tri County Housing Development Corporation spearheaded the plan, supported by city and state government, and Daflure’s ability to make the home net-zero energy--plus state and federal incentives that reduced costs--was key to its success.

“For the average American family investing in renewable energies, we’re there with payback in less than five years,” says McClure. “To get it where you have no utility cost and not relying on outside fossil fuels, is still a pretty special thing.”

With heating and cooling costs eating up the majority of a home’s energy costs (up to 65 percent), the geothermal system was a major part of Daflure’s effort (and represents about 10 percent of its business). Other contractors like insulators and window installers designed their systems to allow little to no infiltration so the HVAC system would run as little as possible. From a design standpoint, retractable awnings were installed to control solar gain, and a PV solar array was added to the roof.

The 1,675-square foot, three-bedroom home’s system is set to achieve net zero energy by maintaining a 73-degree internal environment down to 11 degrees Fahrenheit and a 17-degree Fahrenheit split in the summer. Daflure, which employs 28 and serves the Greater Harrisburg area and beyond, was chosen largely for its 31-year track record and its experience in solar and geothermal.

“We want to be responsible about it but at the end of the day it’s built enough of a buzz that other projects are getting off the ground,” says McClure. “One out of 10 new home builds might have had geothermal in it a few years ago. Now six or seven out of 10 will have one of three renewable energies in the homes we’re involved in.”

Source: Justin McClure, Daflure
Writer: Joe Petrucci

WorkXpress giving new life to self-serve software

When Central PA native and Penn State grad Treff LaPlante left for California to get his MBA, he landed smack in the middle of the tech boom of the late 1990s. He worked with a large video game company and for eBay. The one problem he kept seeing was software for business was just plain bad. It cost too much, took too long to develop and the results were usually less than stellar.

So LaPlante started working on an idea that he brought back home in 2003 and now WorkXpress, which operates out of the Murata Business Center in Carlisle as the world’s only 5GL Platform as a Service (PAAS). The platform allows non-programmers to create limitless, sophisticated business applications using five building blocks in an intuitive environment--as easy as drag-and-drop and point-and-click.

“We wanted to make customization easy, fast and affordable and take the traditional concepts out of the loop,” says LaPlante.

WorkXpress offers consultants who can build software for clients, but its goal is to make the process self-serve, so it has put a lot of effort recently into developing its online training materials. It will roll out WorkXpress University  in the next couple of weeks.

The company has been largely regional, so many light manufacturers, healthcare providers and insurance companies have taken to the service. The growth of cloud computing has made it easier for the company to venture into to other regions and sectors.  In the last few weeks, it has received inquiries and sign-ups spanning the globe, from New Jersey to Latin America.

“For five years I would pull my hair out giving my elevator pitch, and have someone look at me and say ‘I don’t get it,’” says LaPlante. “Now that Platform as a Service and cloud computing are more mainstream, it makes it so much easier to pitch.”

The company employs eight and LaPlante envisions growth there by the end of the year. LaPlante, who worked for a company at the famed IdeaLab incubator in Pasadena, said he’d choose Murata and its host of services in a heartbeat.

Source: Treff LaPlante, WorkXpress

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Taking it to the max: Organic growth for Maximus Solar

It was only a few years ago when Karen and Lamar Erdman, like many other Americans, were reassessing everything--their spending, savings, energy use, waste--as the economy began to take a dive. Karen Erdman was driving home from work when evening when it hit her--they hadn’t yet considered solar.

After some research, the Erdmans realized there were no local distributors for a solar hot water heater they wanted to purchase.  The company asked if they were interested, so the couple purchased the heater and became distributors as well. More than two years later, Maximus Solar is serving residential and commercial customers throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

“It was six months of soul searching and a lot of prayer,” says Karen Erdman, a registered nurse with a background in program design and management. “We just jumped in.”

The company sold and installed solar hot water systems before adding photovoltaic roof panels to its offerings. The products are among the most highly rated in the industry. Like most working in this space, Maximus offers customers expertise in applying for state and federal incentives that return up to 55 percent of the initial investment within the first year.  In the last year, the company has grown by 200 percent.

Maximus started with a warehouse in Sacramento, Schuylkill County, and last year opened an office in the Murata Business Center in Carlisle. While her husband works full-time as a manager at a power plant, Karen Erdman drives 60 miles back and forth working the phones, taking orders and sending out information.

She expects that arrangement to change. The company has the potential to hit seven figures in sales this year, and Erdman hopes to hire office staff and full-time contractors sometime in the spring.
While she’s a big believer in the power of her products to save money and energy, Erdman says it’s important for consumers to be educated.

“I would suggest people ask multiple questions. Information is usually free,” she says. “Sometimes we turn people down because we really pride ourselves on honesty and trying to save people money. Some people who live in the woods, solar just won’t work. Or maybe a senior citizen doesn’t use enough water to warrant purchasing the solar heater.”

Source: Karen Erdman, Maximus Solar

Writer: Joe Petrucci


South Mountain represents statewide CLI's innovation

Multiple government agencies are working on an initiative that spans the state and explores and implements partnerships and programs that protect natural and cultural resources to enhance their respective region’s economic viability. As a result, the state’s Conservation Landscape Initiative (CLI), a joint effort by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources that engages communities local partners with state agencies and potential funders, quite possibly could be a national model.

That's especially evident in Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties, where the South Mountain CLI, one of seven in PA, has enlisted the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, among others, to encourage economic growth that will revitalize and protect local communities with an abundance of recreation and heritage tourism opportunities.

The South Mountain CLI, at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, encompasses 400,000 acres and nearby communities like Gettysburg, Chambersburg and Carlisle, and was born when a housing development threatened to overtake 800 acres adjacent to the Appalachian Trail.

“These four counties we work in have some of the highest rates of development in the state,” says Kim Williams, the external project lead and landscape projection coordinator for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Mid-Atlantic regional office.

“As a partnership, we’re working to protect their assets through tourism, whether they be agricultural or heritage-oriented. There’s a strong link between agriculture and how it buffers the state forest.”

The South Mountain CLI awarded nearly $50,000 in mini-grants in the fall to conservation, heritage and economic development projects.  The partnership will host a summit on Feb. 19 at Penn Township Fire Hall in Newville, Cumberland County, featuring guest speakers, including DCNR secretary John Quigley, to discuss the innovative model of conservation and preservation of sense of place on the local and state scales.

Among the CLI’s efforts: purchasing land, promoting agriculture-related entrepreneurs and the Appalachian Trail through a GPS system, identifying funding partners and education outreach.

“We hosted a meeting two years ago in Adams County and a third-generation farmer said if farming were profitable we wouldn’t have this meeting,” Says Mike Eschenmann, the DCNR lead and head of its community recreation partnerships section.  “That had an impact on me, to think about his livelihood. He doesn’t want to sell his land. He wants to keep farming but it needs to be profitable.

Source: Kim Williams, Appalachian Trail Conservancy; Mike Eschenmann, PA DCNR
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Groups' energy case study contest mobilizes students

College campuses are breeding grounds for social movements. With so much of that youthful energy focused on the environment, it makes sense to try to harness its collective power. In Pennsylvania, a group called PowerMinders has formed to try and do just that, and its first attempt--a contest for which students from around the state submitted their environmental case studies--has validated its mission.

“A little known fact is the state of PA has over 580,000 undergraduate students. If you could engage just 10 percent, we’re talking more than 50,000 students who could do an energy efficiency project,” says Bob Fiore, founder of PowerMinders. “We could impact five million homes and institute energy savings.”

Sveta McShane, a 2009 graduate of Temple University, won the contest, also sponsored by  statewide public interest organization PennFuture. McShane’s case study examined the energy use of Narberth, a small town nestled in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia. McShane gained access to Narberth’s energy records going back to 1997, including household numbers, municipal cars, trucks and usage.  

Her report showed the town’s street lights were a major cost factor and the borough is now looking at replacing all street lights with new, energy efficient LED lighting that will also improve safety.

“I am sure many towns use energy the way Narbeth does, and they can learn from the report, as well,” says McShane.

PowerMinders is made up of close to 1,000 students who formed last year and sold CFL bulbs to family members and friends. PowerMinders co-founder, Cabrini University business administration professor Eric Malm, judged the entries.

“The more we can get students involved, the more committed they’ll be, and the more chance there will be to move legislation forward as they grow up,” says Christine Knapp, PennFuture’s director for outreach.

Source: Bob Fiore, PowerMinders; Christine Knapp, Penn Future.
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Move over, Avatar: Hershey Medical Center opens simulation center

Medical simulation has taken a leap into 3-D at Hershey Medical Center, which opened a $6 million Clinical Simulation Center last week.

Penn State's 10,000 square foot space is equipped with life-sized, fully articulated mannequin to give nursing, medical and other health care students hands-on training. The artificial patients include two adult and one child-sized human patient simulators . A  birthing simulator models a pregnant mother and child. A newborn simulator, catheter training stations and endoscopy trainers are also provided.

"Many centers serve one or a couple of types of healthcare providers; our center serves all different healthcare providers, allowing us to easily provide training and practice for mixed groups,” says medical director Dr. Elizabeth Sinz.

Not all the center’s materials are high tech. Suturing pigs’ feet, for example, provides a realistic substitute for human skin. But the complex, fully-functional mannequins were developed at a cost of “several hundred thousand dollars,” notes Sinz. And, like humans, they occasionally break down. “Maintenance can be expensive and wear and tear occur when the devices are used frequently, as ours are,” she says.

The center will allow trainees to insert intravenous lines, perform laparoscopic surgery, and other procedures. The simulation center also provides 10 model clinic rooms for Hershey's Standardized Patient Program, in which actors and volunteers portray patients interacting with med students.

In addition to nursing and medical students, pharmacists, other providers, and patient families are expected to use the center.

Source: Elizabeth Sinz, M.D., Clinical Simulation Center
Writer: Chris O’Toole


Millersville U opens entrepreneur center with Asian niche

In June, a South-Central Pennsylvania delegation of 30 will fly to Shanghai for a series of conferences and one-on-ones with Chinese business and government leaders. The trip is the first public event scheduled by the new Entrepreneurial Leadership Center at Millersville University.

Melvin Allen serves as project director and executive director. He directs the university's Civic and Community Engagement and Research Project, established to promote regional economic development The new program, part of that larger project, will carve a niche among start-up help groups with a focus on doing business in Asia.

The center’s China Desk will offer consulting services for small businesses and entrepreneurs in central Pennsylvania who seek to do business in China. For the past decade, Millersville has brought Chinese businesspeople to its campus for management development programs. Allen believes that a two-way exchange makes sense.

“We have had hundreds of participants at various levels of business and government. Now we can leverage our network, “ he says. The program will expand to India in the future.

On the domestic front, the program will offer courses and certificate programs to entrepreneurs. “We are creating a number of products. Another part of entrepreneur education is targeted at our undergrad and grad students," Allen adds.

While a $207,000 state grant has helped the program get underway, Allen stresses that it will pay its own way, charging fees for its services. The “starting points,” Allen says, will be in the fields of science and technology and the arts, along with the global business assistance program.

Source: Melvin Allen, Millersville University

Writer: Chris O'Toole


DCED leads PA hydrocarbon firms’ expedition to Great White North

Canada is home to increasingly accessible oil sands, new carbon sequestration and nuclear generation projects and environmental mitigation initiatives.  It’s also home to the oil and natural gas industry’s most significant event on the continent, the Global Petroleum Show 2010 in Calgary this June.

Pennsylvania hydrocarbon firms will be well-represented, thanks to the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, in the hopes of being well-positioned to offer their technology and services. The DCED is organizing a delegation of PA companies and hosting a Keystone State pavilion at the event, and will provide logistical support, pre-set appointments with potential partners, and on-site assistance.

“Canadian oil sands and shale gas present great opportunities for Pennsylvania companies deserving the industry,” says DCED secretary George Cornelius.  “However, companies need to meet face to face with potential partners and buyers to be successful in this market. The commonwealth is providing that opportunity.”

Cornelius speaks from experience. The DCED brought an 11-company confab to last year’s Global Petroleum show in Toronto, where the firms met with 100 possible buyers. More than 60,000 are expected to attend this year’s show. PA’s exports accounted for $34.4 billion last year, an increase of nearly 18 percent from 2007 that easily outpaced the national average (11.8 percent increase).

With major oil companies considering nuclear energy to power extraction and refinement work, PA’s nuclear companies will also have opportunities to find business. Interested firms are urged to register early, with the March 1 deadline looming.

Source: George Cornelius, PA DCED

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Places to be: Lancaster-York packs a one-two punch

In bowling parlance, one could say Lancaster sets 'em up and York knocks 'em down. The rural Central PA strongholds are rapidly outgrowing the hyphen or backslash that often connects the sister cities as a region.

In Lancaster, we've chronicled its resurgence on a number of fronts. There are hot, new options for downtown dining and lodging, as well as the newly opened Lancaster County Convention Center.  Farmers markets and farm-to-table options are becoming the norm, not the exception.

Also, tried and true agriculture is driving innovation along the energy front, while community colleges are seeing record enrollments. Lancaster also can boast of some interesting technology companies, like Flycast, which delivers video and audio content to portable devices.

For exciting companies, York's where it's at. Harley Davidson decided to stay and Church and Dwight set up shop here, but the real excitement lies in new technology from energy-efficiency experts Pace Controls, or the grease analysis kits from Maintenance Reliability Group--two highly touted young companies expected to flourish. Meanwhile Australian syringe-maker Uniflife added 33 jobs at its York County facility, York College is eyeing expansion that could include a business incubator.

With more and more tourists stopping by the Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors and Convention Bureau office in downtown Lancaster and preparations for high-speed rail connecting Harrisburg and Lancaster, and with York's ability to accommodate 27 million square feet of commercial development, the sister cities are among the state's hottest places to be for tourists, businesses, and residents.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Keystone Edge on holiday break, next issue Jan. 14

We know many of our story subjects and readers will get a much-deserved opportunity to break away from the office during the next several weeks. As a result, Keystone Edge will take a holiday break from publishing from Dec. 18 through Jan. 13.

Keystone Edge's next online edition will publish on Jan. 14, when we'll feature the growing number of forums and events that spotlight entrepreneurs, their innovative ideas, and the resources and talent available to them.

Also in the first quarter of 2010, Keystone Edge will look at PA companies working on integrating their business into proposed healthcare reform, how higher education is one of the state's top industries, and the Commonwealth's growing Artisan Trails program.
 
We'll continue to report on innovative and growing companies and profile the state's most interesting entrepreneurs, researchers and artists. If you have any story ideas for the new year, please reach out to us here.

Thanks for reading and helping to make Keystone Edge the state's premiere voice on what makes PA among the nation's most desirable places to work, study, live and play.

Happy Holidays,

-Joe Petrucci, Managing Editor for Keystone Edge


Gauging the Growth Sectors: Sustainability Soars

Green jobs, green technology and green behaviors are being touted as the country's escape from the recession and its re-emergence. Oh yeah, they're also counted on to protect our environment. In Pennsylvania, Harrisburg's implementation of several policies, like Act 29 and other incentives and rebates meant to help businesses and citizens implement green practices, make the Commonwealth among the national leaders in clean energy development.

PA was ranked third in the country for green jobs, and it's not hard to see why. Companies like Pace Controls, Viridity Energy, Enginuity Energy, SRS Energy, E-Mon, and Komax Solar. Wind power is every bit as prevalent as solar, with Iberdrola Renewables, Gamesa and AES all undertaking significant wind power projects in the Keystone State.

Just as quickly as clean energy emerged as a national priority, regional organizations are playing major roles in positioning their geographies as locations or business and green innovation. Pennergy is doing it in Central PA and the Energy Alliance of Southwestern PA will fund energy-related start-ups, and the Green Building Alliances of both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh were recognized as trendsetters in a sector full of opportunity.

When the world descended on Pittsburgh for the G20 Summit in October, leaders and visitors saw the Steel City's amazing transformation through sustainable redevelopment. With that as a lasting symbol, Pennsylvania appears to maintain a major role in sustainability and clean energy initiatives in both the private and public sectors.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Gauging the Growth Sectors: Maximizing Manufacturing

Surely, there were many factors involved, but Harley-Davidson's decision to remain the face of manufacturing in York County sent a major signal: Pennsylvania still matters on the manufacturing front.


While the recession cost the sector significant jobs here and nationwide, there are a number of success stories, both small and large, that give even the most skeptical observer enough hope to believe Pennsylvania can regain much of its manufacturing might.


Elsewhere in Central PA, there are new players, like startup smart-materials technology manufacturer Piezo Resonance Innovations of Bellefonte. International Battery bolstered the Lehigh Valley when the Allentown company's large-format lithium battery factory, the first of its kind in the U.S., applied for major Department of Energy funding to operate at maximum capacity. In Northeast PA, a focus on sustainability drove Dickson City-based Commonwealth Energy Group toward a new production facility that will manufacture energy efficient light fixtures and create 240 jobs.


Statewide, organizations are helping prop up PA's manufacturing base. The Mercer County Career Center is campaigning at school districts throughout the region to develop students' skills to meet the industry's needs, and the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center continues to educate young people and assist manuacturers throughout Southeastern PA.


When Armstrong World Industries, the Juniata building supplies powerhouse that only emerged from bankruptcy last year, announced in October it would expand its cabinet manufacturing division and add 125 jobs within three years, it sent another clear message: Pennsylvania is equipped to rebound from most any pitfall.


Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci


Gauging the Growth Sectors: Higher Ed Evolution

While the tried and true bastions of research, innovation and excellence, like the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State University continued to diversify their interests, impact and integration into the Commonwealth's communities that support them, a number of small institutions throughout the state are giving it a much more robust feel.

Building bridges to the business community was the common theme. Examples of increased technology transfer and commercialization efforts abound, like the Millersville University Software Productization Center, which graduated its first company, Cruzstar, this fall.  Pennsylvania College of Technology asserted itself in the Marcellus Shale play with its new Education and Training Center.

Preparing grads for a different kind of job hunt became a priority for several schools. In May, East Stroudsburg University topped off its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship , the first phase of the school's Research and Industrial Park, and will open an Entrepreneurial Leadership Center thanks in part to a state grant. Lehigh University single-handedly saved its former Governor's School for Global Entrepreneurship and will welcome its next class next summer. Also, the Shippensburg University Entrepreneurial Learning Center launched in the fall with the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour.

Northeast PA, home to more than a dozen colleges, saw a new medical school open in The Commonwealth Medical College, and plans laid for a new law school at Wilkes University. In Central PA, Harrisburg University continues to create opportunities and partnerships that are shaping the city's downtown renaissance as a science and technology hub.

Look for many of these schools' new programs to pick up steam in the coming year, while schools like Penn and the University of Pittsburgh will play even larger roles in developing the communities they call home. With enrollments expected to increase across the board, the opportunities these institutions create are likely to put a stop in the old brain drain conundrum.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Gauging the Growth Sectors: Life Sciences Loom Large

A Milken Institute study found Greater Philadelphia passed San Francisco and is closing in on Boston as the nation's top life sciences region.

While the well-established pharmaceutical industry, entrenched medical research institutions and a growing medical devices sector have helped Greater Philadelphia gain a larger share of the spotlight, there are a number of promising companies that are making it an even more competitive and lucrative location for life sciences success.

Healthy Humans, Hershey's Apeliotus, Pittsburgh's ALung, Pinnacle Health, Scranton's Life Science Analytics, and Horsham's Verilogue are among those most interesting companies that are innovating the industry's processes, devices and information.

As healthcare reform promises to be Washington D.C.'s primary focus early in 2010, Pennsylvania is poised not only to play a major role in increasing efficiencies, cutting costs and providing new solutions, but the state is very much a leader in existing and planned initiatives to bolster reform. Danville-based Geisinger Health System and its venture arm, Geisinger Ventures, have gained national attention for its innovation.

Thanks to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with its planned vaccine center that could create thousands of jobs, and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, with increased investments, in new companies, Western PA is flexing its life sciences muscles.

Other companies are helping establish other parts of the state as fertile life sciences ground, like Unilife in Lewisberry,  York County.

Regardless of what healthcare reform might bring, Pennsylvania figures prominently in its implementation in the short-term and for the long haul.

Source: Keystone Edge

Writer: Joe Petrucci

Gauging the Growth Sectors: Entrepreneurship Enters New Era

Across the state, as displaced workers from large, tried and true corporations looked to re-define their careers in the last year, many Pennsylvanians opted to take daring leaps and strike out on their own, even as the economy continued to struggle.  Meanwhile, emerging sectors like sustainability and life sciences provided ample opportunity for them to explore their entrepreneurial side.

Throw in organizations like Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Philly Start-Up Leaders, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, DreamIt Ventures, the NEPA Venture Partnership and the Murata Business Center, and there is no shortage of assistance. The key moving forward, most everyone has said, is letting people know they're there and how they can help.

Not surprisingly, young people are dominating the landscape, like 23 year-old Sara Lanphier's Nuts About Granola, the York outfit that was featured on the Rachel Ray TV show; 25 year-old Scranton real estate king Tim O'Brien; and the twenty-something trio that is driving the success of the online motorcycle marketplace known as RevZilla.

The old dogs can still bite, though, like serial entrepreneurs Jake St. Pierre of Hazleton CanBE, Michael Sanchez of the Main Line's Savana Partners and Steven Nichtberger of Norristown's Tengion.

In Philadelphia, Jose Garces led a pack of super chefs that are paving the way for entrepreneurs to take their shot in the city's growing food service business. The growth of the arts is fueling opportunities in Harrisburg's Midtown district, where coffee shops, galleries and boutiques are thriving in a previously residential area. For the thirsty, Ron Kamionka continued his stretch of opening successful nightclubs and watering holes throughout the state and a pair of distilleries and microbreweries from Valley Forge to Williamsport are also quenching that thirst.

In the next year, expect entrepreneurship in PA to continue trending upward as the Obama administration shifts its focus from Wall Street to Main Street. In a state known for its Main Street feel, that's good news for risk-takers with good ideas.

Source: Keystone Edge
Writer: Joe Petrucci
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