On Friday, May 18, Wells Fargo presented a $112,500 check to the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress to help establish the Penn State Hazleton LaunchBox small business incubator. The presentation took place at the 13 W. Broad St. property, which is the target of the rehabilitation funds.
This sizable donation is being made as part of a larger $150,000 PA Department of Community and Economic Development (2017-2018) Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) tax credit award to fund Phase Two renovations to the long-vacant property. This is the second year in a row that Wells Fargo has contributed to this program. Last year’s donation of $110,000 helped fund remediation of the building’s blighted conditions.
“We are pleased to continue to support the initiatives of the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress as part of our commitment to community reinvestment,” said Wells Fargo’s Senior Vice President and Business Banking Manager of Northeast PA and the Lehigh Valley, Joseph Boretski. “We make every effort to support revitalization projects that directly impact the areas we serve.”
The funds will be used to renovate the first floor of the building for Penn State to occupy as the Hazleton LaunchBox. This will include low cost co-working space, access to WiFi, meeting rooms, Makerspace, shared printers and other equipment, private offices, and a small café space that will be open to the public.
“We truly appreciate Wells Fargo’s generosity and commitment to serving the Greater Hazleton community,” said Krista Schneider, Executive Director of the Alliance. “This project is a critical component of our downtown revitalization strategy and a cornerstone of the new Arts & Innovation District now under development.”
The Hazleton LaunchBox will become part of the University’s Invent Penn State program, which is a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. A key strategy of Invent Penn State is the establishment of innovation hubs, commonly known as business incubators, to blend entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training, mentoring, funding for commercialization, and university-community collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and others.
Penn State Hazleton received its designation earlier this year when it, along with three other campuses, was awarded a seed grant for initiating the LaunchBox program. Now every campus community in the Commonwealth is represented.
“We are very excited about the opportunities for our students and entrepreneurs in the Greater Hazleton area. The Hazleton LaunchBox is committed to the revitalization of Downtown Hazleton and having this hub will be an important step forward in strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem within the region,” said Dr. Gary Lawler, Chancellor at Penn State Hazleton.
As evidence to its commitment to the program, Penn State University has created an economic development incentive matching program that will support an endowment fund for the business incubator program. The total match available to the Penn State Hazleton campus is $1 million. Gifts can be outright or pledged over 5 years.
The downtown LaunchBox programs will be operated in partnership with CAN BE, the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, and other partners through The Hazleton Innovation Collaborative (THInC).
“CAN DO has a deep commitment to downtown Hazleton and having the LaunchBox located right in our downtown will provide efficient access to the program for everyone and help us to expand the offerings we provide at the CAN BE Innovation Center,” said Jocelyn Sterenchock, CAN DO Coordinator of Entrepreneurial Services. “Entrepreneurship continues to grow throughout Greater Hazleton. The Hazleton LaunchBox will help build on our mission of assisting entrepreneurs of all levels and needs.”
Phase Two renovations to the building are expected to begin later this summer, with the hope that the LaunchBox will be operational by early next year. The Phase Two renovations are also being funded in part by a $300,000 PA Keystone Communities Program grant and a $150,000 Luzerne Local Share Account grant, both of which were awarded to the Alliance earlier this year by the Department of Community and Economic Development. These grants are designed to spur economic development, encourage the creation of partnerships between the public and private sectors, and further the revitalization initiatives of the local Main Street program.
“On West Broad Street in Hazleton is where innovation will intersect with entrepreneurship, thanks to the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress and all of the partners involved in establishing the Penn State Hazleton Launchbox small business incubator,” said Senator John Yudichak. “The investments made today for this project will pay dividends for years to come as the downtown Hazleton area continues their revitalization efforts.”
Following the check presentation the group toured other renovation projects in progress on the same block, including the Broad & Barrel, Dragon Restaurant, the new City Arts Center, and park project.
Other donors to the state’s NAP program have included Mid Penn Bank, First National Bank, Luzerne Bank, FNCB Bank, Community Bank, N.A., Landmark Community Bank, and DHD Realty, who donated the property in 2017. PPL has also contributed Foundation funds to support the IT needs of the facility.