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Collaborators Invest $10 Million to address Four Growth-Critical Issues: Education, Youth, Neighborhoods and Innovation

Posted on October 12th, 2016 at 10:30 AM
Collaborators Invest $10 Million to address Four Growth-Critical Issues: Education, Youth, Neighborhoods and Innovation

The Erie Community Foundation, The Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy, and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority today announced a $10 million joint investment in four areas critical to transformation in Erie County: education, youth, neighborhoods, and innovation.The investment marks the largest grants ever awarded and the largest collaborative investment of its kinds in the 80-year history of the Foundation. 

Grants include $4 million to Mercyhurst University for the Downtown Erie Innovation District, $4 million to Empower Erie for an Erie County Community College, $1.5 million to the Erie City School District for Erie’s Community Schools project, and $500,000 to Gannon University to revitalize Erie’s Bayfront neighborhoods. The $10 million will be distributed over a three-year period as benchmarks are met. 

“This is a unique moment in our community’s history,” said Foundation President Michael L. Batchelor.  “The recently completed city comprehensive plan, Erie Refocused, and numerous other studies reveal pathways out of poverty, increased access to education and training, and a revitalization of our urban core.  If the community can rally around these four transformational projects, we now have the resources to accomplish these goals,” said Batchelor. 

The $4 million grant for a proposed Downtown Innovation District is designed to bring new jobs focused on cyber security to our urban core.  Erie Insurance, McManis & Monsalve Associates, Velocity Network and Mercyhurst University will work with interested partners to create a downtown district that attracts new for-profit businesses, residential facilities and amenities sought by millennials.  

The Downtown Innovation District is a vehicle for the revitalization of Erie’s downtown which takes advantage of the strengths of our universities and the skills and expertise of our local companies.  This combination of academic research and practical business applications has been shown to be a catalyst for attracting innovative companies and creating the types of jobs that will re-energize Erie’s economic growth,” said Marco Monsalve, CEO of McManis & Monsalve Associates. “We envision a center of excellence that would have responsibilities in several analytical areas, including cyber security,” Monsalve added.  “We are excited to be a part of this effort.” 

“Erie’s own Zurn Industries relocated to an Innovation District in Milwaukee,” said ECGRA Executive Director Perry Wood. “The concept works and we’re thrilled to invest in Erie’s Innovation District. It has the potential to bring all of our colleges and universities together with industry leaders to attract global advanced industry entities and transform our downtown and our region.” 

Empower Erie will be awarded $300,000 for an eight-month planning study.  “If County Council agrees to sponsor a Community College, we stand ready to provide $3.7 million of additional support,” said Batchelor.  Education correlates with poverty. In 2004, the poverty rate in the U.S. was 12.7% and 13.7% in Erie, but by 2015, the U.S. poverty rate was 13.5% and Erie’s poverty rate dramatically grew to 26.9%.  “This issue is decades old and it needs a permanent and right-sized fix if our region is going to thrive,” said Batchelor. 

Andre Horton, chair of Erie County Council, has been a strong advocate for increased access to education and training.  “When I ran for my elected position, post-secondary education was a part of my platform,” Horton said.  “A technically-focused community college will help protect and grow our traditional industries, while also creating an affordable pathway out of poverty for many.”  

A $1.5 million grant will be awarded to the Erie City School District for the Community Schools project.  Through the grant, students from high poverty neighborhoods attending McKinley, Pfeiffer-Burleigh, Wayne, Edison and Emerson-Gridley elementary schools and their families, will have increased access to coordinated health, social services and after-school programming.  

“Our students face significant out-of-school issues that impact their ability to learn. This grant will help our principals and after school coordinators integrate services with five existing Community Centers,” said Erie School Superintendent Dr. Jay Badams.  “The end result will be a more seamless service delivery system and increased academic performance.”    

The final grant of $500,000 to Gannon University will jumpstart the implementation of the Erie Refocused City Comprehensive Plan.  “Gannon has led an impressive planning effort to guide revitalization of the West Bayfront,” said Wood.  “We believe this is a scalable model that can be expanded to improve city neighborhoods, block by block. The success of this initiative will demonstrate that downtown neighborhoods can thrive and that housing values and property tax revenues can be increased,” Wood added. 

“We received over 40 letters of inquiry and are proud of these four finalists,” said Batchelor.  “We also know conversations and coalitions inspired by this funding opportunity will continue to benefit our region, and in fact, many of the grantees may be able to leverage outside funding due to these grants.”  

This is the second year the Foundation and ECGRA have combined to support high-priority projects. The 2016 awards from the Foundation were enhanced with an $8 million injection provided by The Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy.  Thomas B.  Hagen, on behalf of the Hagen family, established this fund at the Foundation in December 2015 through a $10 million gift.