Sunday, February 17, 2008

An 800 Pound Gorilla Has An Impact, Because It Weighs 800 Pounds

In today's CDT, Jennifer Thomas gives us a handy list of Centre County's top 40 employers. We can use the list to better understand the oft repeated claim by Old Main that Penn State drives the Centre County economy. Penn State tops the list and many of the other jobs are likely a result of the Penn State presence in the county. This isn't really much of a surprise. However, most of the jobs on the list are not the high paying, high tech jobs which are the by-product of Penn State's research mission. Most of the jobs would have been created by any large employer:grocery clerks, sale clerks, hamburger flippers, bartenders, etc....

The list has only five employers in the high tech sector and I'm being generous in my definition of high tech.

The highest one on the list is Raytheon at number seven. Raytheon is not a direct spin-off from the University, but it ended up in Centre County after it purchased a company which had purchased HRB, a defense contractor which was started about fifty years ago by some Penn State faculty.

Next on the list of high tech employers is AccuWeather at number fifteen. It was founded by a Penn State meteorology Ph. D. Joel Myers, back in the 1960s.

Then after McDonald's at 18, the hamburger people,not McDonald-Douglas the defense contrator, comes gas chromatograph maker Supelco at 23.

At 24 is Minitab a statistical software company. Minitab was found by former Penn State faculty memebers Tom and Barbra Ryan.

The last on the list at 27 is another gas chromatograph maker Restek.

The last three companies, Supelco, Minitab, and Restek have all been around for at least twenty years. I don't know of any direct connection between the University and the founders of Supelco and Restek.

The next time Penn State touts its huge economic impact on the Centre Region, remember any large enterprise would have pretty much the same impact on jobs and the University hasn't had a major high tech spin off in over twenty years.

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Anonymous said...

PSU has had high-tech spin-outs in the past twenty years. The most valuable company was Zetachron, though the connection between DOS and the company was indirect. The U owns equity in 28 start-ups, most of which were formed during the past five years.

Salimetrics is doing very well. Chiral Quest not so much, but it went public. The biggest thing on the horizon is Anacor, started by PSU Chemist Steve Benkovic.

Incidentally, Supelco's founders were PSU grad students Supina and Pellick.

Should I be asked to argue whether the 800 lber leaves more of an impact than its massive budget, I'd say, "hell no." It's a sea of mediocrity. Cheers

Veblen said...

Thanks for the comment.

My point wasn't that Penn State hasn't had any spin-outs in the last twenty years. Rather it's that none of them made the list of top 40 employers and ultimate the social good of economic development is measured in terms the number and quality of jobs generated.

And don't forget Penn State has been pushing the economic development thing since the mid-eighties. Hence there should have been ample time for a spin-out company to mature and produce enough jobs to put them in the top 40 .

Anyway, thanks again for commenting and please feel free to disagree with me.