‘The Sky is the Limit’: Wolf Administration Highlights Impacts of Additional Funding for Tech and Innovation through Back to Work PA Plan

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin was joined by John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, and Bob Starzynski, Director of Business Development for Innovation Works to highlight how Governor Tom Wolf’s Back to Work PA plan will provide much-needed funding to help cement Pennsylvania’s place as a national leader in technology and innovation.

“Known as the Silicon Valley of the East, Pittsburgh—and, more broadly, Pennsylvania—has long been recognized for its contributions to technology and innovation,” said Sec. Davin. “The Back to Work PA plan put forth by the governor will reinforce that reputation and will make the additional investments we need to further grow our abilities and opportunities. With that added support, truly, the sky is the limit.”

Back to Work PA would invest in Pennsylvania’s technology and innovation sectors by developing a holistic funding strategy to foster creation of new companies, implementing crucial support surrounding cybersecurity, combatting brain drain, and supporting businesses that hire Pennsylvania students.

“Bold and strategic investment in our workforce will pay dividends not only to those affected by the pandemic but to all taxpayers,” said Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland). “There is opportunity at the end of this calamity and Pennsylvania should be positioned to seize it.”

As shifts in the economy occur, it is critical to cultivate new ideas and foster support for start-ups as well as present and future entrepreneurs. Under the Back to Work PA plan, existing innovation programs will have their funding restored to levels not seen since before the recession, which will support establishing a technology-based economy in Pennsylvania and allow the commonwealth to compete in the global marketplace.

The administration is calling for funding for this $3 billion investment to come from a commonsense severance tax on natural gas extraction. Pennsylvania remains the only gas-producing state without a severance tax and trails only Texas in natural gas production. The proposed severance tax would align with other major natural gas-producing states and prop the commonwealth up with the successes of these other states have seen, like infrastructure improvements, improved educational systems, and lower taxes.

“With support from DCED, the Ben Franklin Technology Partners assisted and invested in nearly 1,700 companies across Pennsylvania last year,” said Rich Lunak, president & CEO of Innovation Works, the Ben Franklin Technology Partner of SWPA. “Those tech companies attracted an additional $895 million of investment in 2020 – much of the money from out of town venture capitalists – as the nation has discovered what the commonwealth already knows: Pennsylvania’s technology companies are a good investment.”

The mission of Innovation Works is to introduce, connect, support and expand the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem within Southwestern Pennsylvania, making the region a center for innovative startups and tech investors from around the country. Their portfolio spans key sectors of strength in the Pittsburgh region including robotics, artificial intelligence, medical devices, retail technologies, enterprise software and others. Innovation Works is the largest seed stage investor in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, and one of the most active in the country. They support tech entrepreneurs through each stage of their idea — helping them build their startup from scratch, find the resources to grow their company and find the funding they need to keep their idea moving forward.

“We are pleased to be contributing to a high-tech drive and economic resurgence for the region,” said John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO. “We hope that our missions to the moon can be an exclamation point on Pennsylvania’s thriving technology sector and support the investments the state is appropriately making to bolster the Southwestern PA innovation economy.”

Originally based out of Carnegie Mellon University, Astrobotic is a space robotics company whose mission is to make outer space accessible to the world. The company makes high-capability space missions practical for a broad spectrum of business, scientific, and social applications. Astrobotic’s lunar lander, to be named Peregrine, will deliver payloads to the moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals. The company is also developing advanced space robotics capabilities for lunar surface operations and reliable computing systems for mission-critical applications.

For more information about the Department of Community and Economic Development, visit the DCED website, and be sure to stay up-to-date with all of our agency news on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Casey Smith, DCED, casesmith@pa.gov

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