Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New innovation district sponsored by state

A former AT&T research center in Breinigsville will be part of a state-sponsored innovation district that seeks to foster collaboration between universities, entrepreneurs and communities.

Tek Park is in one of five separate nodes in the Greater Reading Keystone Innovation Zone, the second such district in the state to include portions of the Lehigh Valley. The zone's sub-areas will be concentrated around five educational institutions, including Kutztown University and Albright College in Reading. The Lehigh Valley's first KIZ is in south Bethlehem and includes Lehigh University.

The Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce, which will manage the KIZ, will receive $235,000 in seed money. Most of the money will be used to pay a coordinator a salary and benefits.

The KIZ in the Reading area will focus on several industries, including advanced materials and diversified manufacturing, and food processing. Horan of the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce said the KIZ designation will be ''an attraction tool in and of itself,'' for companies in those fields and others. Companies located the zones receive some tax benefits, and are encouraged to hire area students.

Tek Park is already geared to create some of the dynamics the state wants to encourage. The facility, opened by AT&T as a Bell Labs research center in 1987 and now owned by a private investor, is home to several small tech companies. Kutztown University will open an Innovation Center there, and plans to hold some of its masters of business administration courses there. University officials foresee collaboration with tenant companies on applications for research grants. The companies share common space, and some work in similar industries.

The new bi-county KIZ differs somewhat from the one in south Bethlehem, which is more compact. The one announced Tuesday, by contrast, has five separate zones that stretch from Reading to Breinigsville.

The Bethlehem district was one of the first two announced in the state. It recently unveiled a wireless computer network that includes more than 50 signal access points scattered around the Third and Fourth street business district. The wireless computing system allows students, business owners and visitors to roam around south Bethlehem with laptop computers and handheld devices while maintaining a high-speed Internet connection.

More here.

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