By Rich Lunak, President & CEO
Since the first days of COVID-19, Ben Franklin clients across the commonwealth have been working around the clock and contributing to efforts to address this public health issue in various ways. Here in southwestern Pennsylvania, Innovation Works’ clients are doing their part to assist in a number of ways, including:
Offering free software so health care customers can hire medical staff faster
Working on innovative drug therapies that could treat COVID-19
Providing the bridge to recovery for patients who suffered lung damage as part of their treatment for the virus
These innovative services are not only vital to ongoing crisis response efforts; they’re essential as Pennsylvania transitions into recovery mode.
A National and Global Push for Innovation
Even before COVID-19 prompted states to seek avenues to jump-start their economies and get back on track, the national and global competition for innovation was fierce. Facing unemployment that rivals the Great Recession, one can expect competition to significantly increase as states and nations work to generate much needed revenue. We don’t have to look very far for examples of the type of competition we can expect moving forward.
Domestically, Michigan recently made $6 million in funding available for high-tech startup companies. Beyond our nation’s borders, the UK, France and Germany announced they are collectively committing more than $8 billion for startups with a focus on innovation.
All of this paints an abundantly clear picture – our rivals are ready to compete. So what can Pennsylvania do to ensure it doesn’t fall behind?
To start, we can commit to investing in innovation and in our commonwealth’s economic future. For Pennsylvania, innovation represents new ideas, new supply chains and new career opportunities that benefit us all. I’m happy to say those efforts have already begun.
An Important First Step on the Journey to Recovery
In April, the state announced $4 million to support Ben Franklin clients that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of Ben Franklin’s four regionally based centers will match the $1 million it receives in state funding with another $1 million. Here in the southwest region of the state we’ve called our matching efforts the COVID Resiliency Fund.
The $4 million investment was a bold and greatly appreciated first step by our leaders to shore up the innovation and tech-based sectors during the pandemic, especially since most economic recovery programs don’t apply to startup firms and entrepreneurs. But as a report by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program highlights, Pennsylvania must continue to invest in order to remain competitive.
Fortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2020-21 General Fund budget included a $5 million increase for the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority (BFTDA), which funds Ben Franklin’s four centers. Recognizing that investments in innovation drive economic growth and ensure Pennsylvania continues to capture its share of emerging high-tech developments; Gov. Wolf outlined a path forward that makes just as much sense today as it did when it was originally proposed.
Pennsylvania’s Unique Competitive Advantage
I’m proud to say no one is better equipped to help innovation prosper in Pennsylvania than Ben Franklin Technology Partners. For more than 35 years, Ben Franklin’s four regional locations have supported hundreds of entrepreneurs in a shared quest to drive Pennsylvania’s innovation economy. We’ve been incredibly successful in our efforts, with independent analyses finding that every dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin generates $3.90 in additional state taxes.
Ben Franklin’s track record speaks for itself – investing in 4,500 technology-based companies, boosting the state economy by more than $25 billion, and helping to generate 148,000 jobs through investments in client firms and spinoff companies in Pennsylvania. These jobs pay an average of $79,364 annually, or the equivalent of 52 percent more than the average non-farm wage in our state and possess growth potential, and help generate much needed tax revenue.
Ben Franklin provides Pennsylvania with a unique competitive advantage as it seeks to recover from COVID-19. If ever there is a time to tap into, utilize, and expand our advantage; that time is now. Investing in innovation is the path forward Pennsylvania needs and deserves. Gov. Wolf’s proposed innovation budget is an important step in our state’s journey to a full recovery and a promising future.