CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners on Tuesday heard an update on programs available to local entrepreneurs through the North Central PA Launchbox.
In October, the county and Penn State DuBois received grant funding totaling $725,850 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for the expansion of the LaunchBox.
The funding is being used to expand the LaunchBox and Innovation Collaborative with additional training equipment and entrepreneurial programming.
To date, Launchbox Director Brad Lashinsky said plans are to order approximately 20 laptop computers fully-equipped with software programs for the Downtown DuBois Launchbox for training purposes.
He said the Clarion University Small Business Development Center, Northwest Industrial Resource Center and North Central Regional Planning & Development Commission will institute the training.
Lashinsky said training will cover areas such as Microsoft Excel, QuickBooks and Adobe iCloud to not only help entrepreneurs learn accounting, but also to educate the skilled or semi-skilled labor force.
“It will help increase their skill sets so that they can go into higher-wage paying jobs in the future,” he said. The Launchbox will also offer a “Maker’s Space.”
He said this space will allow individuals to turn their idea into a prototype for a product, as well as to conduct additional research and development for their product.
Lashinsky said the Launchbox has worked alongside several consultants to identify the necessary equipment, and is now trying to find an on-campus location to house that equipment upon its purchase.
He said currently plans are to purchase traditional 3D printers, plasma cutters, laser engravers, a vinyl cutter and printer along with some other hand tools.
In the engineering labs, he said plans are to install a metal 3D printer and a technical training center will introduce robotic arms and a powdered metal press to help further automation.
“With the lack of labor force in the region, the lower-skilled positions could be transferred over to automation,” Lashinsky said, “and then we could focus on increasing skill sets of the labor force.”
He said the Launchbox first opened on the Penn State DuBois campus in April of 2019 and then at its Downtown DuBois location back in January.
Since April, he said the Launchbox has served 50-plus clients and created nearly $20 million in initial economic investment into the north central Pennsylvania region.
Lashinsky said it’s also hosted the Big IDEA Competition in partnership with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and they are now hosting the TechCelerator Program with six new start-up companies.
He said the program is guiding the start-ups through business plans and development, marketing, patent design, etc., and the finale will be held at the end of March. The winner will receive $10,000.
Since its opening in January, he said the downtown Launchbox location has seen over 500 visitors, it’s hosted several private seminars and there are three partners subleasing space.
Under the Launchbox’s model, he said it was important to bring in partners to collaborate under one roof. Other partners include the Downtown DuBois Revitalization Group, Ben Franklin Technology Partners and NWIRC.
He said there is a fourth office space that’s being leased on a rotational basis, and the lease rate equates to less than $10 per day. He said the office space is fully-furnished and comes with printing, telephone and WiFi services.
Lashinsky also noted the Launchbox will be featured through Invent Penn State during Start-up Week in April. It’s also been selected by the Secretary of Education to represent Region 3 in the PA Ready Coalition.
“We’ve made a lot of progress and had many great accomplishments in a short amount of time,” he said, noting all the services are free and at no cost to their clients.
“… We encompass every facet of the business spectrum, and work with an innovative entrepreneur, a traditional entrepreneur and an existing business who wants to diversify, expand or who is at-risk of closure.”
Lashinsky said the region has a declining population and family sizes aren’t as large as they used to be two or three decades ago. Figures show numbers will continue to decline and focus is now on recruitment.
He said there must be a multi-pronged approach with a focus that includes healthcare, education, economic development, recreation and tourism, etc.
“We have to work together as a coalition to show how special the north central region really is and promote it as a united front to bring people into the area,” he said.
Lashinsky said because many of the region’s young people are moving away, it makes the Launchbox program a great avenue to develop entrepreneurial opportunities for them.
“… It’s important for the small entrepreneur to realize that they can make it right here, not just New York City, but right here,” added Commissioner Chairman Tony Scotto.
In other business
- Commissioner John A. Sobel reported that the commissioners intend to participate in a teleconference concerning the Coronavirus on Wednesday. He said it’s being sponsored by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania with the state’s Secretary of Health. So far as his knowledge, he said there weren’t any confirmed cases in Pennsylvania as of the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday morning, and they would know more about preparedness and prevention afterwards. Sobel suggested people do little things to avoid becoming ill, such as washing their hands for 20 seconds, to avoid touching their face, covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough and seeking medical treatment if they don’t feel well.
- the commissioners approved a modified agreement with ES&S for the printing of election ballots for the Primary and General Elections in 2020. It was noted the previous contract was for three years, and the new contract will be for one year so that the commissioners can explore other printing options in the future.
- the commissioners approved the bills as presented by the Controller’s office.