Pandemic Doesn’t Slow Investments in Innovation
by Ryan Glenn, Director of Statewide Initiatives
Ben Franklin Technology Partners
The Department of Community and Economic Development recently announced a $4 million investment in the statewide Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which serves all 67 counties through four regionally based centers in Pittsburgh, State College, Bethlehem and Philadelphia. Each of the four centers will receive $1 million and match it with another $1 million. The funding will support clients that are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Innovation is the key to resolving this crisis. Many of Pennsylvania’s startups are helping the state respond to this pandemic. It truly demonstrates that investments in innovation save lives.
Before 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 four centers. If investing in innovation made sense in the best of times, it is even more critical post-pandemic.
Competition is fierce for innovation --- across the country and around the world. Other states have adopted technology-based economic development programs and are investing heavily. They aren’t slowing down during this pandemic either. Michigan just approved $6 million for startup companies in the state. The push to capture emerging high-tech developments is global. The United Nations, France and Germany collectively commit $8.1 billion for startups and investments in innovation.
In the highly competitive high-tech economy, every dollar matters. Investments now to shore up the sector during the pandemic is critical, especially since most economic recovery programs don’t apply to startup firms and entrepreneurs. But continued investments are a must to drive economic growth in Pennsylvania, according to a report by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. In other words, we have to invest to remain competitive.
Pennsylvania has achieved great success.According to the most recent in-depth analysis by two nonpartisan research organizations, every dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin generates $3.90 in additional state taxes, with Pennsylvania receiving $386 million in additional state tax. 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.
Pennsylvania pledged to invest in Ben Franklin Technology Partners before the pandemic began, and DCED came through with funding during these challenging times. We don’t know what the coming months may bring --- and that can be unsettling. But one thing is certain: continued investments in innovation can help steer us in that new direction.