President Barron breaks barriers to redevelopment of downtown New Kensington

January 07, 2016

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. — Penn State President Eric Barron presided over the beginning phase of Penn State New Kensington’s plan to revitalize downtown New Kensington at a demolition and dedication ceremony in the city Jan. 7 celebrating the campus’ new Entrepreneurial Center.

Barron, along with Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus, and Thomas Guzzo, mayor of New Kensington, knocked down a wall of a former storefront at 951 Fourth Avenue. The deconstruction signified a rejuvenation of the area and the launch of a business accelerator program to attract and nurture innovation and small business development across the Alle-Kiski Valley. The New Kensington campus will re-purpose the building, the former Harts Department Store, to serve as an incubator for entrepreneurs.

"Penn State New Kensington has had historically strong and close ties to industry, business partners and the local community,” Barron said. “These collaborative relationships offer a wonderful opportunity to promote economic development and entrepreneurship in this region. I look forward to seeing how this seed funding will inspire innovation to further benefit students, faculty, staff, the business community, and all the entrepreneurs working among us.”

The project is funded by a $50,000 grant from Invent Penn State, an initiative that focuses on leveraging Penn State’s research, knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit to bring to market needed ideas, products and services. The premise is to involve campus students, faculty and staff and community members in generating ideas, then turning those ideas into promising new companies.

The New Kensington campus was one of six Penn State campuses to receive seed funding. The other campuses were Abington, Erie, Harrisburg, Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre.

To turn the University’s research engine into a driver of job creation, economic development and student career success, Barron committed $30 million to the Invent Penn State program. The campus’ Alle-Kiski Economic Generator (AKEG) program is the delivery vehicle for affecting change in the city of New Kensington and the region.

"It is because of President Barron's vision of having Penn State drive economic development that we are pursuing this initiative,” Snider said. “The Entrepreneur Center will bring energy, innovation, and a sense of progress and quality not seen in the area in a long time. To have him kick off the first phase of the project is really exciting and speaks to the president's commitment in bringing economic development to New Kensington through entrepreneurship."

The 800 and 900 blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues form the core of downtown New Kensington. As the city celebrates its 125th anniversary year, Guzzo is overseeing the area’s revitalization, which includes the razing of vacant buildings to make existing buildings more viable. Last fall, PugDug’s Rock and Bead Shop moved from Squirrel Hill, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh, to the 900 block of Fifth Avenue.

“Penn State has been very kind and incredibly instrumental in taking a regional approach toward helping solve some of the economic issues of our city,” said Guzzo, a Penn State alumnus and mayor since 2010. “Our city is moving forward and on an upward trajectory as new businesses are moving in. The accelerator program will define the ‘new’ New Kensington as a place where our greatest minds can create the next big thing, and where new ideas and products can be developed and put to use. It is the perfect way to commence our quasquicentennial anniversary.”

The Entrepreneur Center is a part of AKEG, a collaboration of the campus, businesses and communities working to improve the lives of the residents of the valley. Regional partners, such as Bridgeway Capital, Idea Foundry and Riverside Center for Innovation, have pledged their support in developing the city and surrounding areas. In addition, the project is attracting matching funds from community partners.

"Today we begin a new chapter of inspiring innovation through collaboration in this region," Barron said. “We’re glad we could provide a location where academics and entrepreneurial leaders can meet and develop initiatives and programs, driving innovation in the New Kensington area."

The center will feature modern meeting and office space. Designated sectors will accommodate programming and training and serve as a regional gathering place for campus faculty, staff and students, as well as entrepreneurs, funders and the business community. Companies will be able to utilize the space to meet clients, hold retreats and host seminars. The campus community will have opportunities to network and develop ideas with community partners.

AKEG is expected to spur economic development in the city through a four-phase process — idea generation, idea refinement, idea funding and proof of concept. The process melds Penn State’s intellectual resources with the valley’s local assets to foster an economic surge. Individuals and community groups with scalable business concepts can benefit from the program, and are encouraged to apply.

“This center will be a place infused with Penn State New Kensington's entrepreneurial spirit,” Snider said. “By combining the energy and vitality of our students with like-minded individuals in the community, we hope to create new partnerships, businesses, and development opportunities in downtown New Kensington.”

Services at the Entrepreneurial Center will include guiding fledging innovators through the four phases. Idea generation will provide guidance and training on developing business ideas. Partners will supply training at little or no cost. Idea refinement will augment promising ideas and projects with mentors and business plan development workshops. Idea funding will offer resources for projects that merit investment. Entrepreneurs will be paired with financing partners to help secure funding for the project.

The last phase will be the key to resuscitating the vibrant business district of New Kensington. Proof of concept will support entrepreneurs who are ready to “test” their product or idea. The Entrepreneur Center will make vacant properties available to the startups for free or a nominal fee and provide low-risk, time-limited opportunities to sell their products in the area. Successful vendors will be offered low-cost loans if they move into permanent storefronts in the New Kensington area and agree to hire local people.

“The four phases will take a few years for the full promise of this initiative to be realized and for companies that were conceived through the AKEG to open storefronts in New Kensington,” Snider said. “However, we anticipate that the added traffic created by members using the office space, our students, and entrepreneurs, as well as the services provided by the Entrepreneurial Center, will attract businesses and other startups to the downtown area.”

Invent Penn State dedication ceremonies previously were held at Penn State Lehigh Valley and Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Future events are scheduled for Penn State Erie, Penn State Abington and Penn State Harrisburg.

For more about Invent Penn State, visit

  • Breaking down the wall

    Nittany Lion summons his inner Ronald Reagan to “tear down this wall.” 

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

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Last Updated January 07, 2016