Inside Pennsylvania’s Tech Renaissance

Pennsylvania played a starring role in the industrial revolution, which explains why so many people still associate the state with its industrial roots.

But the entrepreneurial spirit woven into Pennsylvania’s DNA, as well as a strategic decision in the 1980s to substantially invest in tech-based economic development, has given way to a thriving tech scene that rivals more well-known tech hubs around the country — and definitely deserves a closer look.

Newcomers are often surprised by the diversity of tech innovations and industries in Pennsylvania, as well as the assets and talent spread throughout the state, says Ryan Glenn, director of statewide initiatives for Ben Franklin Tech Partners, which provides funding, businesses assistance and networking opportunities to technology firms throughout Pennsylvania.

The state’s companies and universities are at the forefront of tech in a wide variety of industries: Seven leading research universities call Pennsylvania home, and the state has competitive tech clusters that include robotics, advanced materials and manufacturing, healthcare IT, medical diagnostics and therapeutics, software development, powdered metals and connector technology.

To get specific, one of the first producers of microchip wafers (IQE) was founded and located in Bethlehem — yes, in the same town as Bethlehem Steel, Glenn points out. “We are also the birthplace of cable television, the polio vaccine and, believe it or not, the smiley emoticon,” Glenn says.

But unlike some of the hot tech scenes that people often think of — Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York City — those who grow their careers in Pennsylvania can enjoy an affordable cost of living while still having access to arts and culture, amazing food, great craft beer, major league sports and more.

An Ecosystem to Support Tech
So, what exactly spurred Pennsylvania’s tech renaissance?

In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania’s economy was dealing with high unemployment as major industries like steel were in severe decline, Glenn explains. The state needed a bridge between its struggling manufacturing economy and the technology-based economy that would carry the state forward.

The state government put Pennsylvania on the trajectory to become a tech hub, and, in 1983 created Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Launched in collaboration with the state’s universities, it has become one of the nation’s longest-running tech-based economic development programs.

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