Over the past three years, the FirstEnergy Foundation’s grant has enabled over 300 Penn State students to benefit from engineering design projects that support PA small manufacturers and businesses, leading to over $2M in economic benefits.
The Penn State College of Engineering’s Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory provides the opportunity for businesses to sponsor a team of senior undergraduate engineering students to work on a project for the company over the course of an entire semester. The Learning Factory supports over 200 engineering design projects each year to help sponsors advance technical design challenges toward viable solutions.
PennTAP, acting as a connection point between small to mid-sized businesses and Penn State resources, partners with the Learning Factory to bring in business sponsors and scope design projects that will challenge students.
During the Fall 2017 semester, FirstEnergy Corporation worked with PennTAP to sponsor two Learning Factory projects. That positive experience inspired the FirstEnergy Foundation to support economic development and innovation in their service areas by creating this program to cover 50% of the project sponsorship costs for businesses with financial need.
“We’ve had the honor of distributing the funding from the FirstEnergy Foundation’s voucher program to small and mid-sized companies across the state,” said PennTAP Director Tanna Pugh. “It can be difficult for companies to make the initial upfront investment to pursue these back-burner, process improvement-related projects, especially now and in the past two years over the course of the pandemic. This voucher program enables these projects to come to fruition, which often end up increasing efficiency and decreasing costs for the companies in the long run.”
Since the inception of the FirstEnergy Foundation grant program in the fall of 2018, 53 participating businesses located across 29 Pennsylvania counties have reported resulting economic benefits in excess of $2M, which was defined as time saved, increased sales, capital expense, and costs avoided. 18 jobs have been created or retained as a result of the program, and 32% of the participating businesses are located within environmental justice zones, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection defines as any census tract where 20% or more individuals live at or below the federal poverty line, and/or 30% or more of the population identifies as a non-white minority.
“As a small business, grants that help us to participate in programs that might not fall within our financial priority list but may help move our business forward and strengthen the PA manufacturing sector are very much appreciated,” said Bob McGowan, CEO and Founder of Mission Critical Solutions, a metal fabrication company in Bedford County. “We may not have participated if it wasn’t for the grant. This project helped us to explore the use of one of our products in a custom application geared toward a potential new segment of our business. Having the Learning Factory team gave us dedicated and well-trained resources at our disposal.”
The Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program at Penn State is a federal, state and University partnership to stimulate statewide economic development. PennTAP helps organizations maximize their competitiveness through in-person consultations, unbiased technical advice, and connections to Penn State experts, resources and programs.