Op-Eds

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Putting Pennsylvania Towns Back in Business

For most of the 19th and early 20th century, Pennsylvania was the world leader in developing new products and turning them into highly successful businesses. The entrepreneurial leaders are legendary -- H.J. Heinz, Milton Hershey, Andrew Carnegie and in Huntingdon, J. C. Blair, a small-town bookstore owner who developed the writing tablet and built it into a major company. These individuals started businesses that they grew in Pennsylvania. Why not -- they were Pennsylvanians.

In the second half of the 20th century, Pennsylvania began a new approach to job creation - providing tax incentives to attract companies to the state. As more states followed Pennsylvania's strategy, the outcome became more expensive and less effective.

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, Juniata College is rethinking how to improve the economy by taking inspiration from those entrepreneurs of the past. Today, the new economy requires intelligent and hard working individuals to develop and grow businesses and often relies on the intellectual capital found in colleges and universities.

The entrepreneurial synergy generated by students of diverse interests and backgrounds will inspire ideas that can work on a local, regional, or global scale.

The Juniata College Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership aims not only to create new businesses in a community with a great quality of life, but also to create a new experiential model for educating business students from any major-from science to history to theater-who have an inspiration to start their own enterprise.

Juniata's plans to align resources with other partners to encourage business ideas, assist with developing the business and provide incentives to keep businesses in Pennsylvania. These partners include: Huntingdon County's economic development group HCB+I; St. Francis University's SBDC (Small Business Development Center); and college alumni and local business leaders. Other state initiatives like the Life Science Greenhouse will have roles depending on the business being created.

Here is the Juniata College entrepreneurial model:

The entrepreneurial synergy generated by students of diverse interests and backgrounds will inspire ideas that can work on a local, regional, or global scale. In this age of cyber-business and "click-and-mortar" startups, students realize that you can create a business in the Juniata Valley just as easily as you can in Silicon Valley. About half of our students have small-town roots, and many would love the opportunity to stay in a community where housing is affordable and a nearby college can provide social, intellectual and recreational opportunities, as well as the chance to do business in national and global markets.

Juniata already has dozens of students running their own businesses -- from water testing to Web consulting. The college is looking forward to giving these efforts a further leg up. Many of our students chose Juniata because it offered a nurturing, academically challenging environment. Also, Juniata is within about 500 miles of 50 percent of the nation's population and four of the largest consumer markets. We're betting that those same qualities will be attractive to both regional entrepreneurs and the students who have started businesses here.

An important final piece to our program is Governor Rendell's proposed Keystone Innovation Zone proposal. These zones will provide the tax breaks and incentives necessary to assist an entrepreneur in ramping up production to a sustainable business in a college town.

And the payoff? First, Juniata students will receive hands-on experiential education in business. At Juniata, our teaching model stresses learning by doing, and there is no better way to learn business than by building one yourself. Secondly, Juniata will provide unique opportunities for non-student entrepreneurs by offering our expertise and facilities. Finally, each business created here stimulates our local economy and keeps talented entrepreneurs in Pennsylvania.

That would be a wonderful outcome for our economic future.

Tom Kepple has been president of Juniata College since 1998. He is a native of Murrysville, Pa.