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Richard King Mellon Foundation gives $5.5M for tech lab in New Kensington

Updated: May 20, 2020

Teghan Simonton| Wednesday, February 26, 2020 3:49 p.m.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation has awarded $5.5 million for a new digital innovation lab in New Kensington.

The lab is expected to be located in New Kensington’s Corridor of Innovation, a five-block stretch along Fifth Avenue between Penn State New Kensington’s innovation hub, The Corner entrepreneur center, and Westmoreland County Community College’s New Kensington campus.

The lab will be an effort between the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland and Penn State New Kensington, with additional support from the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

“We want to create a model and ecosystem so that small Rust Belt towns like New Kensington can thrive and be competitive in the digital age, while also spurring economic revitalization and redevelopment,” Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider said in a statement.

The lab will serve regional manufacturers and industry, school districts, college students, entrepreneurs and others in the area. There will be hardware and software stations, virtual and augmented reality spaces and more, according to a news release.

Jim Smith, president and CEO of the Economic Growth Connection, said the lab was originally conceived to be just a “maker’s space.”

Digital prototypes can be made

But as the collaborators continued planning and gathering feedback from local businesses and manufacturers, they decided the space must have a strong digital component.

So the lab will provide computers and software to allow users to create digital simulations of products and equipment, allowing them to test their prototypes digitally before it is even produced.

Large companies are already engaging in this practice, Smith said. The lab will make the digital tools accessible to small businesses and manufacturers in the area.

“That will allow companies to have much less problems, much fewer surprises and much greater efficiency,” Smith said.

The project is a step toward preparing the region for “Industry 4.0,” Smith said, combining industry with all of the available technology and data to spur a fourth industrial revolution.

“I’m so impressed with the way all the programs have come together,” Smith said. “There are so many players, and everyone is just working toward the betterment of the city and the region.”

Smith said he is excited to see the project come together with the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s grant. The building design for the lab is already underway.

New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said the lab project has been in the works for several months. He hopes the collaboration will boost the community’s revitalization efforts, benefiting both the city and the entire Alle-Kiski Valley.

“Our goal is to be recognized as a community for innovation,” Guzzo said. “This will allow people to start training and retraining for the jobs of the future.”

Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, or via Twitter .

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