Is State College the New Materials Valley?

April 13, 2020

Businesses like RJ Lee and Morgan Advanced Materials are a boon to the local ecosystem and Penn State’s advanced materials community, and reinforce the area as a growing hub for advanced materials and manufacturing innovation.

The building at 310 Innovation Boulevard is the newest addition to Innovation Park, but it's so much more than just a building in an office and technology park. It's the home to organizations that enforce State College's standing as the new Materials Valley.

“We are all very excited about the new building and what it represents,” Jeff Fortin says. “This building was envisioned as part of the master plan for the Park... Our office works with companies to identify their challenges and needs and then look across Penn State to find out if we have expertise that can help them with their needs. We are sort of like match-makers, connecting companies’ needs to the capability of our faculty, staff, students, facilities, etc. We really want to see the research and expertise of Penn State be applied and have impact. This is exactly what we expect in our partnerships with the new tenants of 310, Morgan and RJ Lee.”

Fortin is director of the Office of Industrial Partnerships (OIP) at Penn State. His office fosters strategic relationships with industry partners, supporting Penn State’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and accelerating the pace at which technologies move from discovery to implementation.

The 310 building is a manifestation of the OIP’s engagement with strategic companies who are establishing bases at Innovation Park, in order to engage with Penn State and the Happy Valley region.

He points out that there are two key aspects that set the new building apart. “First, it is a flex building, meaning that it is flexible in its uses and therefore can be used for research, development, light manufacturing or office space as needed. The second aspect is that our focus for this building is to have it be filled with companies that are collaborating with Penn State on multiple fronts, particularly on research and development.”

One of the building’s first tenants was the 10,800-square-foot Morgan Advanced Materials’ Carbon Science Centre of Excellence. Morgan Advanced Materials is a world leader in advanced materials science and engineering of ceramics, carbon and composite, headquartered in the United Kingdom.

Fortin explains, “Penn State has a long history of leadership in research and development in materials science and engineering. It is one of our core strengths. Our Materials Research Institute led by Director Clive Randall is very focused on solving industry problems and transitioning their groundbreaking research into society.”

In March 2016, Penn State received an inquiry from Morgan Advanced Materials, who was on a mission to identify a proper place for a new Carbon Science Centre of Excellence. After a few months of discussion, the company made the decision to locate its new centre in Innovation Park, in the new building. The space, location and partnership with Penn State was exactly what Morgan was seeking.

“We have a multi-element collaboration in place now that includes research engagements with our faculty, access to our state-of-the-art materials characterization facilities, opportunities for student internships and full-time hires,” Fortin says.

Given this collaboration, it was only natural to continue looking for other materials companies that would be a good fit for working with Penn State. Later, RJ Lee, a leading industrial forensics analytical laboratory headquartered in Pittsburgh, joined in, and committed to opening a laboratory in the building.

OIP is reaching out to companies with existing Penn State relationships, companies that rely on advanced materials or advanced manufacturing technologies to enhance their products. One area of particular interest is additive manufacturing, since OIP sees the opportunity to build out a hub of additive manufacturing-related companies, given the expertise in metal-based additives at CIMP-3D.

The addition of businesses like RJ Lee and Morgan Advanced Materials are also a boon to the local ecosystem and Penn State’s advanced materials community, and reinforces the area as a growing hub for advanced materials and manufacturing innovation.

“We see this as the beginning of building out a strong materials hub in the region,” Fortin says. “These companies will hire from the local workforce and will also bring new talent to the area; they will buy houses and add to the economy. We believe this will bring even more companies and talent to the region, what some are referring to as ‘Materials Valley’.”

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