By Stephen Brawley, President and CEO
Over the last several months, COVID-19 has altered almost everything about our daily personal and professional lives. As the pandemic reached Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf, his administration and the entire General Assembly showed tremendous leadership as they aimed to not only protect residents of the commonwealth, but also the many businesses Pennsylvania residents rely upon for their livelihoods.
In April, the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority (BFTDA), which funds the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners initiative, awarded $4 million to the statewide Ben Franklin’s to support clients that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as our client’s innovations are helping the state respond to this public health crisis. Each of the four centers will receive $1 million to assist clients hit particularly hard by the economic impact of the pandemic.
Without a doubt, stopping the immediate damage caused by COVID-19 was essential to ensure the long-term and short-term health of our communities. Ben Franklin and its clients appreciate state leaders acknowledging the importance of startups and innovation in our economy. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that Pennsylvania will need to recover, move forward and diversify its portfolio of thriving industries if it wants to compete nationally for talent and economic growth as our nation rebounds. We’re going to need to keep building on our investment in startups and continue to nurture innovation in Pennsylvania.
It’s important to note that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a 2020-21 General Fund budget that included a $5 million increase for the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority (BFTDA), which funds the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners initiative.
The initiative aims to support fledgling enterprises at their most vulnerable point --- the early stages of commercialization and market development --- and provides vital support services that clients cite as being key factors in their eventual success. The governor’s investment was essential to ensure our commonwealth remains a leader in supporting revolutionary technological developments, often driven by startups, which improve the human condition and address critical challenges now and in the future. The initiative made since then, and it especially makes sense now.
Since its inception, Ben Franklin has invested in more than 4,500 technology-based companies and boosted the state economy by more than $25 billion – helping to generate 148,000 jobs through investments in client firms and spinoff companies in Pennsylvania. Every dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin generates $3.90 in additional state taxes. Jobs created by Ben Franklin’s client industries pay an average of $79,364 annually, which is 52 percent more than the average non-farm wage in Pennsylvania.
Prior to COVID-19, Ben Franklin was already one the most widely known and emulated state technology-based economic development programs in the nation. Our reputation inspired and motivated other states to attain the same level of success we’ve come to expect here in Pennsylvania. That’s precisely why the governor’s proposed $5 million investment was a wise, and necessary, first step to bolster innovation and entrepreneurship in the commonwealth. We can expect that competition to increase as our neighbors look for ways to jumpstart their economies and generate revenue.
Now that we can provide short term relief to businesses impacted by COVID-19, it is imperative that we hit the ground running with a plan that supports growth and builds upon the foundation we’ve established through 30 years of smart investments in cutting-edge startups. As our state aims to maximize every investment made with tax dollars, and energize its economy, Ben Franklin shines as the smart choice. Pennsylvania needs to be exceptionally committed to overcoming any momentum that was lost as a result of COVID-19, and Ben Franklin serves as an essential catalyst to sustain and grow an ecosystem that fosters high-tech development and drives entrepreneurial success.
We appreciate recent assistance to startups during this unprecedented time. Now we must begin the necessarily work to keep Pennsylvania on the right economic path. We’re also excited to work with the governor and lawmakers to make the proposed investment in innovation a reality as the state works to finalize a 2020-21 General Fund budget and move forward to a better tomorrow.