Portion of New Kensington city block transformed into innovation corridor

Corner LaunchBox spurs Industry 4.0 initiative
Credit: Penn State

Corner LaunchBox, powered by Penn State New Kensington and The Corner, is a 4,725 square foot, newly renovated co-working space located on Fifth Avenue in downtown New Kensington. Fifth Avenue, formerly known more for boarded storefronts than innovation, is being transformed into a five-block, "Corridor of Innovation." The effort began with a $150,000 seed grant from the Invent Penn State Initiative.

Penn State New Kensington used the grant to leverage more than $3 million in economic development funding and spur a revitalization effort for New Kensington, supported by collaborators, including Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation (WCIDC), City of New Kensington, Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland, Innovation Works, Westmoreland SCORE, PennTAP, SBDC, Costarters, and Forward Cities.

In 2019 alone, Corner LaunchBox had 10 accelerator program graduates, supported five new startups anchored in Pennsylvania, and helped create 20 new jobs. More than 900 individuals utilized the facility for a variety of free and low-cost activities, including the 10-week Corner Opportunity accelerator program, an Idea TestLab, small business and entrepreneurship workshops, free legal clinics, weekly information sessions, and networking events.

Just Getting Started

The Corner catalyzed a new effort involving Nextovation™, led by Penn State New Kensington, aiming to transform the Rust Belt-era city into a vital and competitive community in the digital age. The initiative is a collaborative, cross-sector partnership designed to engage K-16 students, industry, government, investors and the community to prepare the workforce for the digital future – or Industry 4.0, the next industrial revolution.

Additionally, Pittsburgh-based Richard King Mellon Foundation recently committed $5.5 million for the creation of a state-of-the-art Digital Innovation Lab in New Kensington. The lab, a collaborative effort between the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland and Penn State New Kensington, will be located on the Corridor of Innovation. Among other services, the lab will help local industry partners develop digital “twinning,” the simulated representation of a product before it's manufactured, which reduces cost and shortens time to market. Projected to open in Spring 2021, the lab will serve K-12 school districts, college students, entrepreneurs, makers, and companies – providing access to software tools that integrate product development, manufacturing, operations, and business management.

"Local industry is partnering with us to develop a workforce for the next industrial revolution," said Kevin Snider, chancellor at Penn State New Kensington. "The pace of technology and need for innovation has changed the skills businesses and industry need in a workforce.”

The Corner, anchored by Corner Launchbox, and Nextovation also helped spur the building of a new multi-million-dollar, mixed-use housing/office space facility by Family Services, a new UPMC clinic, the sale of 15 additional properties for development, and the opening of two new retail businesses, as well as a Voodoo Brewery location.

While there may be a Voodoo Brewery in New Kensington, there’s no magic in advancing the region's economic development. Transformation requires hard work, funding, and collaboration amongst government, education, industry, community, and entrepreneurs working together.