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Virtual groundbreaking held for ‘Digital Foundry’ to be built in New Kensington

BRIAN C. RITTMEYER|Thursday, October 29, 2020 6:01 a.m.

Leaders from New Kensington, Westmoreland County and Penn State participated in a virtual groundbreaking Wednesday for an innovation and manufacturing lab that will support education and manufacturing in downtown New Kensington.

Called “The Digital Foundry at New Kensington,” it will be built over the next year at the site of a community garden on Fifth Avenue in the city’s “Corridor of Innovation,” anchored by The Corner. While it is not known when construction will begin, the 15,000-square-foot building is expected to open late next year.

The garden will be rebuilt at another location.

The building is an effort between Penn State New Kensington and the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland, with a $5.5 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and support from the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp.

“We believe this project will become a national model,” Mellon Foundation Director Sam Reiman said.

The foundation’s grant will cover the costs of construction, outfitting the space and sustaining operations. Penn State University provided a $1 million matching gift to help create an endowment for ongoing operating support of the facility.

“In New Kensington, we have seen a transformation that’s inspiring, uplifting and ready for a bright future,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “We anticipate our investment in the next generation of innovators in New Kensington and other communities will not only positively impact new business starts and job growth for rural and underrepresented constituents, but also will serve as a bulwark against ‘brain drain.’”

The lab is envisioned to serve as a launching pad for training and access to modern software tools by combining digital data and equipment into new product development, manufacturing, operations and business management.

It will be used by regional manufacturers, grade school and college students, entrepreneurs, educators, “makers” and workers wanting to develop new skills.

Plans include demonstration spaces for sharing manufacturing and technology industry trends; classroom and advanced computer lab and software stations; hardware and software stations; maker space production areas for product incubation; a factory simulator; and programming and training opportunities.

“The addition of the Digital Foundry at New Kensington will serve as a model for economic rehabilitation, so similar Rust Belt towns like New Kensington can experience an increase in jobs and new skillsets while adopting a digital infrastructure,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor of Penn State New Kensington.

Sherri McCleary was announced as the foundry’s first director. McCleary has more than 30 years of executive leadership and experience in industry, engineering and manufacturing, and most recently served as director of additive manufacturing-business at Kennametal.

In developing and overseeing the new lab space, McCleary will create and generate memberships, develop and implement training programs and build the lab’s reputation regionally and nationally.

“We believe that our future space will serve as a hub for the incubation of ideas and as a model for the development of economic growth and tomorrow’s business technology leaders,” she said.

Helping the manufacturing industry will be a priority, as it has a proven impact on economic growth, McCleary said. For every dollar spent in manufacturing, another $3 is generated in the economy, and for every job created, four to five others are created elsewhere.

“We’ve seen very well, both positively and negatively, the impact that the health of manufacturing has on the health of a community,” she said.

The building was designed by Pittsburgh-based R3A Architecture.

Jozef Petrak, manager of design, said the building’s design was inspired by New Kensington’s history, with features such as its sawtooth roof, and by the buildings around it, reflected in the use of brick.

“We can’t wait until we open the doors,” Snider said.

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