(TNS) -- Rust Belt cities are finding new economic lifeblood by creating innovation hubs that pair industry with academic expertise to advance more technologically based businesses.
Buffalo has medical innovation and biotechnology, and Milwaukee's initiatives focus on water issues.
Erie, if all goes according to plan, will emerge as hub of innovation for cybersecurity and data science.
The city's hopes for the creation of a downtown innovation district began in October with a $4 million grant to Mercyhurst University from the Erie Community Foundation, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and the Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy. Mercyhurst is meant to take the lead in creating the district, while working with Erie Insurance, Velocity Network and the consulting firm of McManis & Monsalve Associates to complete joint projects.
On Friday, the first tangible initiative to advance this transformation began with the welcome announcement of a $1.25 million investment to develop and expand academic programs at Mercyhurst focused on the insurance industry and cybersecurity, as detailed by Erie Times-News reporter Gerry Weiss.
The university's Walker College of Business will house programs on risk control, insurance underwriting and insurance claims, while programs in cybersecurity, data analytics and cyberintelligence in the insurance industry will be developed and expanded through the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Science.
Erie Insurance board member and Mercyhurst graduate Betsy Hirt Vorsheck is making the investment, which seems rightly timed and focused.
The initiative hews to priorities in both the Erie Downtown Master Plan and Erie Refocused, the city's comprehensive plan. It will create a pool of talent and expertise for Erie Insurance to draw on for interns, new hires and workforce training - a need that is likely only to grow given the company's recent announcement of a $135 million facility expansion and plans to create 1,000 new jobs at the Erie headquarters.
And it could help to stem Erie's damaging brain drain by creating fresh opportunities for the young and educated.
As Weiss reported, there is a workforce shortage of cybersecurity expertise, and jobs for risk managers have grown nearly 30 percent since 2004, according to Mercyhurst officials.
This partnership between Erie's only Fortune 500 company and Mercyhurst could one day make Erie a national hub to meet these growing demands and allow the region to find its place in the global economy.
Taken together with other transformative initiatives in the offing - Scott Enterprises' $150 million Harbor Place bayfront development, UPMC Hamot's $111 million expansion, and the $1.6 million that Marquette Savings Bank, UPMC Health Plan, Gannon University and Erie Insurance have invested to help realize the Our West Bayfront plan - Erie's future is coming into view. It looks anything but rusty.
©2017 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.