Morning Call: Ben Franklin Technology Partners says state’s $3.5 M funding doesn’t go far enough
By Anthony Salamone - July 2, 2019
This article was originally posted in The Morning Call.
Pennsylvania’s $34 billion budget for the fiscal year that began Monday did not cut funding for the Ben Franklin Technology Partners program, which includes a business incubator at Lehigh University. But the organization, which boasts of creating thousands of jobs in the Lehigh Valley and the state, didn’t receive the additional money it sought.
Its $14.5 million statewide appropriation, divided among Ben Franklin offices, did not change, meaning the local organization received the same appropriation — $3.5 million — it’s been getting for the most part since 2007-08.
In a statement, R. Chadwick Paul Jr., president and CEO of the Lehigh University-based Ben Franklin Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, said next year will be a test for its budget.
“We recognize the fiscal challenges Pennsylvania faces and appreciate the funding elected leaders voted to provide to our program,” Paul said. “But the funding is half of what it was more than a decade ago.
“We need to restore Pennsylvania’s funding to Ben Franklin if we want to maintain our competitive edge in an increasingly high-tech world,” Paul said. “We need to support programs that have boosted our economy so successfully.”
Ben Franklin lobbied for more financial support via the media and an online blitz. Several of its leaders, including Paul, testified in March before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The state supplies 99% of Ben Franklin’s operating budget — money it uses to help entrepreneurs spawn their ideas. Since 1983, the local Ben Franklin has helped launch the fortunes of startups that have included Bethlehem-area companies OraSure Technologies and Rea.deeming Beauty Inc.; Ciclon Semiconductor Corp., which is now part of Texas Instruments at Ben Franklin’s TechVentures facility; and organic toothbrush-maker Radius Corp. in Kutztown.
Once fledgling businesses enter Ben Franklin’s TechVentures incubator, the companies receive money, technical support or office space from the organization, with some growing into pillars of the Lehigh Valley economy.
Despite its successes, Ben Franklin has faced stagnant state funding or funding cuts several times in its more than 35-year existence. Paul said that hurts more than just Ben Franklin; it has kept the Lehigh Valley from competing for innovative businesses and the jobs they create.
In the last few years, the statewide organization received an additional $14 million per year via a grant, and officials sought its restoration.
In 2016, its most recent tax return available to the public, Bethlehem’s Ben Franklin reported revenues of $12.8 million and expenses of about $8 million. That year, 55% of its revenue came from the state, while the balance was primarily from federal grants for the completion of a west wing addition to the TechVentures building.
Besides Ben Franklin, some 12 other organizations saw no funding increase, according to a Morning Call review. The state Department of Community and Economic Development, which oversees the funding disbursement, received a 14% hike, to $179.3 million. The local Ben Franklin covers 21 counties.
Morning Call reporter Anthony Salamone can be reached at 610-820-6694 or email@example.com.
Between 2012 and 2016, according to an analysis by the Pennsylvania Economy League of the four regional Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the organization helped create 11,407 high-paying jobs, generated $386 million in tax receipts for the state, and boosted the commonwealth’s overall economy by $4.1 billion.
Jobs created by Ben Franklin’s client industries pay an average of $79,364 annually, 52% more than the average nonfarm wage in Pennsylvania.
A recent independent economic analysis shows that every dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin generates $3.90 in additional state taxes.
Learn more at benfranklin4pa.com.