Youngstown State University wants to create more opportunities and resources in manufacturing in the Mahoning Valley, helping existing companies, companies that expand into the region and companies created by its graduates. That’s the driving force behind its planned Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center.
“Our objective is jobs, ultimately,” said provost and vice president for academic affairs Martin Abraham.
The center would include research and manufacturing equipment and teaching labs, as well as space for offices, other instruction and general brainstorming, Abraham said. The aim is to create a space to pull the region’s manufacturing resources, faculty and students under one roof to allow for more collaboration and innovation.
It’s years away from becoming a reality, but plans to create a cohesive, shared space for manufacturing innovation and learning on Youngstown State’s campus are underway. The university will collaborate with a variety of educational partners on the center, including Eastern Gateway Community College and local K-12 schools, as well as groups like the Youngstown Business Incubator. The cities of Youngstown and Warren also will be involved, according to a news release.
The Youngstown Business Incubator already works with Youngstown State on a number of manufacturing-related projects, said chief operating officer Barb Ewing, so this project is a “logical next step.” When the center is complete, it will offer local schools and businesses a full, seamless array of services, she said. Abraham said he expects there will be something in place to allow local businesses and individuals to take advantage of the space in addition to the schools in the partnership.
And by working together, the institutions will be able to share resources — and costs, Abraham said. Manufacturing equipment can be expensive to purchase and maintain, especially if a school isn’t using it 24/7. But sharing the equipment would allow the university, the community college and the K-12 schools to share those costs, as well.
That collaborative vision comes with challenges, though.
Abraham said the parties will have to work through agreements to figure out how to operate the facility. The maintenance costs will be one consideration, he said, as will liability coverage, as students from other schools would be working on Youngstown State’s campus. And figuring out how to handle intellectual property in a collaborative facility will be a concern.
“We know that’s going to be a challenge,” Abraham said.
The other big challenge is funding. Abraham said he envisions the project costing about $30 million total, but the facility will be able to be completed in pieces. He estimated that the university would need about $6 million to $8 million to move forward on the first piece, which would be the manufacturing center where most of the equipment and teaching laboratories would be housed. Future additions would include space for people to collaborate and plan for innovations, as well as space for offices, conference rooms and instruction areas.
Abraham said the group has looked into similar facilities, but didn’t find anything exactly like what they want to do, so they’re “picking and choosing” from different models. One similar program locally is the think[box] at Case Western Reserve University, but Youngstown State wants its program to include more heavy manufacturing equipment. Abraham said the space will include everything from additive manufacturing and robotics to CNC machines and welding equipment.
So far, the university has received $3 million in the state capital budget, Abraham said. It’s looking into other state and federal funding, in addition to private donations. He expects the group could raise enough to get started in the next six months to a year. Construction could begin in the summer of 2017, but Abraham said he thinks the summer of 2018 is more likely.
“I’m optimistic, but there’s a lot of unknowns still,” he said.