Beehive Stimulates Economic Flow of Erie While Combating Brain Drain
Posted: October 22, 2018
Entrepreneurship has long been the theme of the United States
since the birth of democracy. In recent years, Erie, Pennsylvania
has exemplified the hunger for an American revitalization, as the
Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network and other
start-up services have provided assistance to businesses in the
Erie region. While manufacturing jobs move south, Erie is
experiencing a 360-degree turnaround in the way it does business
and it's creating a different story to tell.
Among the services offered to the public of Erie, the Beehive is
particularly comprised of four universities which are: Penn State
Behrend, Mercyhurst, Gannon and Edinboro. Within the Beehive
Network are separate hives for each university that operate in each
school's expertise. The beehives are mostly student-operated, as
these universities focus on harnessing the talent of young minds
from all edges of academia- and it's working.
"I think we've seen a lot of growth in the last few years, even
from my office at Gannon. You're starting to see the Erie Insurance
building rise, the skyline is changing and I think there is an
excitement that I didn't experience five years ago with new
businesses coming to State Street," said Will McAndrew, Ph.D., a
finance and economics professor at Gannon University.
"Historically we've relied more on anchor firms," said Ken
Louie, Ph.D., Director for the Economic Research Institute of Erie
(E.R.I.E.). Louie then continued by saying that new businesses are
playing a greater role in Erie and evidence suggests that start-up
companies are important for job creation and to stimulate the
According to the research provided by Louie, "Only 13-percent of
Erie employment is in the manufacturing sector today." In contrast,
manufacturing jobs accounted for half the total employment in Erie
during the 1950's and since then the Erie economy has fluctuated,
with many businesses now operating on a smaller scale.
As cited from the U.S. Census Bureau, Erie's population has
slowly been declining for the past decade, therefore contributing
to the "brain drain."
When asked how the Beehive at Mercyhurst was benefitting Erie,
Brad Gleason, Director of Operations for the Ridge College, said,
"Well, like anything, it doesn't happen overnight and the Beehive
has been a slow and progressive tool to look at smaller businesses
that are locally driven."
Gleason continued by emphasizing the need to keep the idea of
the Beehive captured in Erie while sustaining the program until it
starts generating jobs and revenue in the area.
"You need a tax base generated by a business, but you also need
to be able to support your workforce," said Gleason. "We've been
doing that in a variety of ways, I know the first effort was called
Quickstarter and we changed the Erie county success rate of
45-percent of campaign success under Kickstarter's platform. We've
raised that to a 93-percent success rate and of those businesses
all of them are still operating, and there's not a ton of employees
at this point, but one [business] alone has seven employees and
this is their third or fourth year and they're still doing very
well. If you do enough of those in volume you'll make an impact in
the area," said Gleason.
With a central focus on intelligence and market research, the
beehive at Mercyhurst sold Quickstarter to Erie Management Group,
LLC and since then, they've helped support businesses with the goal
to aid them long-term and were able to carry innovators further
than Mercyhurst, said the Director of Operations for the Ridge
When asked if everything seemed to be moving fluently in terms
of communication between universities, Steve Mauro, Ph.D. Vice
President of Academic Administration at Gannon, said, "We have
stayed in constant touch and communication, and the efforts and
collaboration have been seamless, and our progress to date has been
a reflection of that."
Gannon's Beehive focuses on the business development and
analytical aspect of business start-ups, and they've worked with
anyone from current students, to established businesses.
"A lot of the stuff that we've done thus far has really focused
on either feasibility studies or more of a full business plan
depending on where the business happens to be in their progression
point," said Mauro.
Seven miles from Gannon operates the original Beehive where
prototyping and product development are fostered inside the
Innovation Commons of Penn State Behrend. Since 2015, Mercyhurst
and Behrend have been working side-by-side through a program called
the Ignite Erie Industry University and University Collaborative,
while Gannon and Edinboro transitioned into the project. Overall,
the goal of the program was to generate as much collaboration as
"Our goal was to lower barriers to innovation in the region,
specifically serving inventors, industry and educational
institutions like high schools," said Jake Marsh, Industry
Relations Coordinator for Penn State Behrend.
Marsh continued by describing how Ignite Erie Collaborative was
able to give nineteen 3D printers to high schools in the region
through the funding of Ignite Erie. "One of the things we do here
at the Innovation
Commons is [provide] tech service for those [high schools], so
if they have a problem they call us and we visit them and take care
of it. Still, our largest group of clients is inventors. There are
a lot of great ideas that just need a little design and prototyping
In a way, being inside the Innovations Commons represents the
idiosyncrasies of an actual beehive, as students gathered academic
sustenance for the progress of their mission, while the energy in
the room was truly electric.
Providing the balance of right brain to left brain, Edinboro
University harnesses the talent of artful minds to strategically
market and brand companies to help reinvent their image.
"We have not encountered anyone on our campus who did not want
to participate. It's interesting to see the new dynamics its
created and the new relationships its building," said Rosemarie
Graham, Director of Grants and Sponsored Programs for Edinboro
Graham continued by explaining, "A lot of people spend a lot of
money on marketing and design, and getting their web pages up and
social media pages going, and [the Beehive] allows them to save
that cost and put it into other business production, and it also
gives our students an opportunity to work with corporations that
could potentially employ them in the future."
When asked how Edinboro was able to bring together members of
the (communication, journalism and media department) with members
of the art department, Graham said, "That's Tony Peyronel, Ed.D.-
he's been amazing at that."
"We've involved five different courses and 58 students and
that's the other thing we're supposed to show, not just how we're
helping other organizations, but how we're incorporating classes
and what type of experience our students are getting," said Tony
Peyronel, Ed.D., a professor at Edinboro.
Like a pinball bouncing from hive to hive, clients are granted
state-of-the-art information through the Beehive Network, and while
universities foster the talent of young minds, their services are
free-of-charge. Not only are services free, but it's easy.
According to Marsh, you could essentially come in with a napkin
sketch of an idea and one of the beehives would guide you in the
Not only is the Beehive Network contributing to the cessation of
the brain drain, but it's creating jobs for students to gain
hands-on experience for their fields of study. Graham describes the
experience as an "internal internship."
The duality of the Beehive Network among students and faculty
also offers an experience that cannot be measured in a traditional
setting, because at the end of the day, students and faculty are
pushing each other to produce a legitimate product in real-time.
The Beehive may not single handedly stop the brain drain, but
through the connections and information learned, Erie will surely