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Seven leading research universities in Pennsylvania are banding together in an initiative calling for increased funding for advanced manufacturing research from the state.

Called PA ENGN, which stands for Pennsylvania Engineering, the consortium includes Penn, Carnegie Mellon, Drexel, Lehigh, Penn State, Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh.

“All of these universities produce people with masters degrees and PhD’s in technical engineering fields, but many of them go somewhere else to work” Hallacher said. “How do we make Pennsylvania an appealing place for highly trained leaders [in STEM fields]?”

Michael Hoffman, executive director of strategic initiatives at Penn, thinks PA ENGN can be an answer to this question. Manufacturing is “the largest contributor to the PA gross state product,” Hoffman points out. Supporting advanced manufacturing will create more jobs, which is “absolutely one of the primary goals” of the initiative, Hoffman says.

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The focus on manufacturing will ideally assist the growth of Pennsylvania’s economy. Between 1990 and 2009, employment in manufacturing in Pennsylvania has declined by 40 percent.

A joint op-ed by the presidents of all the participating universities said of the consortium, “Our goal is to support the entrepreneurial efforts that will make Pennsylvania a manufacturing powerhouse, and in doing so, create high-wage jobs.”

To accomplish this, PA ENGN will help the participating universities boost their involvement in research commercialization and development by increasing their funding for such endeavors.

The initiative originated at a conference in Philadelphia last year where representatives from the participating universities met to “discuss ways that they might collaborate with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on advanced manufacturing.”

Hugh Allen, director of Commonwealth Relations at Penn, believes that funding this initiative is in the best interests of the state. He points out that the seven universities of PA ENGN, “contribute more than $31 billion in economic impact for the Commonwealth and support more than 100,000 jobs.”

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PA ENGN would use its funding to support “university research linked to companies, designed to meet industry needs.” Paul Hallacher, director of research program development at Penn State, said. Hallacher also said that PA ENGN could provide research support for smaller manufacturers or help launch more startups.

PA ENGN is currently working with state government officials to build support for the initiative in the next budget cycle, although “we haven’t really developed a concrete proposal with dollars attached,” Hallacher said. They are also looking at industry partnerships for funding possibilities.

But “we’re not approaching this as we just want money,” Hoffman says. “This is built around the idea that we have something to offer.”

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