Mercyhurst University will take the lead in establishing a Downtown Erie Innovation District to drive a new knowledge-based economy focused on safety and security, thanks to a $4 million Shaping Tomorrow* grant announced today by the Erie Community Foundation (ECF).
Mercyhurst will serve as the anchor institution and will collaborate with three corporate partners: Erie Insurance, Velocity Network, Inc., and McManis and Monsalve Associates. The partners will execute joint projects related to safety and security, specifically in the high-demand fields of data science and cybersecurity, where their combined skills will create a powerful business alliance and serve as the catalyst for economic growth. As the district grows, additional corporate and university partners will be added.
“Mercyhurst is ready to take the lead in what we believe will be a potent game-changer for Erie,” said Mercyhurst President Michael T. Victor. “We envision an innovation district in downtown Erie that will allow us to build a dynamic leadership network and work together with a singular vision focused on growth and prosperity for our community. We wish to express our utmost gratitude to the Erie Community Foundation for their support of our collaborative vision for Erie’s future.”
Victor thanked Dr. David Dausey, provost and vice president for academic affairs, for his leadership in bringing the project proposal to fruition and taking the lead on its implementation. He also thanked Caleb Pifer, vice president for external relations and advancement, for his work in facilitating the partnerships, and Dr. James Breckenridge, dean of the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences, who also played a key role in advancing the project.
Innovation districts are a relatively new phenomenon intended to reshape cities and promote economic growth. They work by combining the talent from anchor institutions to build partnerships across sectors, transforming cities into innovation hubs that attract new business, funding and investment and, in turn, drive the vitality of a city.
As project leader, Dr. Dausey noted, “Innovation districts have shown that both American and global corporations are interested in being centered in proximity to trained talent. By focusing heavily on the emerging fields of data science and cybersecurity, Erie will be well positioned as a hub for companies to make investments. In fact, as we have seen from the financial services industry and the insurance industry, data science is one of the largest growth areas in the field. Multiple industry CEOs have been quoted as saying that ‘big data is the future of the financial services industry.’”
Innovation districts also leverage a community’s assets and create opportunities, from work to retail to cultural attractions that serve to retain highly-educated Millennial graduates.
In awarding the grant, special attention was given to the fact that Mercyhurst and its partners, all with considerable expertise in data science and cybersecurity, proffered a plan that dovetails with the goals of Erie’s Comprehensive Plan and is designed to serve three critical community needs:
Stop brain drain and enhance brain gain.
Replace low-wage jobs with family-sustaining jobs.
Revitalize downtown Erie.
In Year 1, Mercyhurst will hire both a nationally known expert on creating innovation districts and an executive director to ensure the success of the project. The university will create the infrastructure with its partners, finalize site selection in downtown Erie, and determine cost estimates for renovations.
The Ridge Policy Group, a lobbying firm founded by the nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security and Erie resident Tom Ridge, will work with the executive director to actively recruit companies to Erie by showing them that Erie is an innovation center with unrivalled talent in the areas of safety and security.
In pledging his support for the project, Ridge wrote: “The vision for this collaboration between the university and three of the most innovative employers in the Erie region will bring together, under one roof, the best and the brightest employees, faculty and students to conduct new research that results in synergies, concepts and ultimately commercially viable ventures that will provide jobs and economic security for the region.”
In addition to Dr. Dausey, the executive team includes Timothy G. NeCastro, chief executive officer, Erie Insurance; Joel Deuterman, president/CEO, Velocity Network, Inc.; and Marco Monsalve, chief executive officer, McManis and Monsalve Associates. Together they will steer implementation of the project and identify additional members of the executive team who will move it forward.
All told, the ECF announced $10 million in grants today. Besides the $4 million Downtown Erie Innovation District grant to Mercyhurst, the ECF awarded $4 million in support of a community college to Andre Horton and partners, $1.5 million to the Erie School District for a community schools project, and $500,000 to Gannon University in support of the Erie Bayfront beautification project.
*The Shaping Tomorrow grant program promotes continuous improvement in the quality of life in Erie County by investing in multi-year projects that offer a high probability of transformational and sustainable community change. Shaping Tomorrow grants address critical needs through collaborative endeavors with measurable outcomes. Based on data from Erie Vital Signs, Foundation trustees have identified the areas of Health, Education and the Economy as priorities for funding. Thanks to the generosity of the Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority for their support in making funds available for this year’s Shaping Tomorrow grants.