Programming and robotics training center, The Fortress, hoping to open in WeCo
Inspired by York's past, John McElligott is looking to help build the county's future, with robotics.
3TC Robotics, headed up by McElligott, is hoping to transform the former Western National Bank building in the WeCo neighborhood. The company's plan is to create a L3C — low-profit limited liability company — and turn the building into The Fortress, a computer programming and robotics training center, McElligott said.
"The word fortress means a place of strength and security," McElligott said of the name. "We want those who enter The Fortress to feel that same sense of safety — safety to try anything, tackle any problem and a place where risk is not only tolerated but admired."
Tech in York: McElligott, formerly the vice president and chief communications officer of Royal Square Development, has looked into bringing technology start-ups to York for a couple years, but quickly found that there was a "software disconnect" in the county, he said. This new project is different, he said, because it will be "linked to York's heritage."
"This is technology you can touch rather than creating apps or something," McElligott said. "Robotics are machines."
McElligott believes the need for such a project in York has arisen thanks to the emergence of collaborative robots, which are being created to work alongside human workers in industrial settings.
The YMCA building: The building at 301 W. Market St., which was donated to YMCA of York County by the Bob Hoffman Foundation in the late 1970s, has been underutlized for years, according to McElligott. Larry Richardson, president and CEO of YMCA of York County, said the building had been used for a baseball academy, weightlifting and racquetball at various times during the past 10-20 years.
The company began looking to repurpose the "unique structure," Richardson said, as part of an intense strategic planning year that began in 2014, evaluating the use all the YMCA's assets. The Board of Directors chose 3TC Robotics' proposal over five or six others — some internal — because it best fit with the company's mission for youth opportunity and community development, he said.
"We do an achievement gap program ... where we were able to help send 15 (minority) children to college this year," Richardson said, "but what about children that grow up in urban communities that can't go to college? This fits that need to help them find good jobs (based on) what we're hearing from industries around the city."
The two companies are in the midst of a 90-day agreement, where the YMCA board is exclusively speaking with 3TC Robotics about the building and 3TC Robotics is evaluating the financial viability of necessary renovations. Richardson said he was optimistic a deal would be finalized, and McElligott doesn't believe the evaluation will take the full 90 days.
If 3TC Robotics is able to reach a lease agreement and begin construction, McElligott — who learned to move projects along quickly while at Royal Square — believes The Fortress could open in early 2016.
Benefits for all: Once opened, The Fortress will be aimed at filling a gap in youth education, preparing young adults to jump into a workforce that needs new blood, teaching those already in the workforce how to adapt to coming changes and putting York ahead of similarly sized cities.
This four-component objective of The Fortress will fill a need for every age group and the city, McElligott said. The free education for kids on robotics and computer programming helps supplement a school system without the necessary funds, he said.
The coding school offers milennials intensive training that will provide the knowledge needed to immediately enter jobs with most businesses, he said. The program will focus initially on Python, which is a good foundation for open-source robotics language, McElligott said.
"Programmers fill a need," he said. "Pretty much every business can benefit from having capable programmers."
The robotics accelerator program will bring tech startups to the city, he said, which would help coding school graduates receive interest and those already in the workforce learn about technological advancements, he said. The venture fund will bring more investment opportunities into York and make the city a hub for technological advancement in the future.
The accelerator program is the only one currently with confirmed funding — $300,000 in the first year with promise for up to $900,000 in years to come by a local company that wished to remain anonymous — but McElligott doesn't believe raising capital will be the toughest task for this pursuit.
"There is no small city embracing anything like this right now," McElligott said. "We have all the pieces to be a national leader on this front."
The York Plan: Bring a leader is something York has been fantastic at historically, according to McElligott, who was inspired to pursue this venture based on The York Plan.
The York Plan — immortalized by a mural on the side of the South George Street McDonald's — refers to the time just before the U.S. entered World War II when the entire manufacturing community came together to create a 15-objective plan to build defense equipment for the military. The plan became a national model under the slogan: "Do what you can with what you have."
McElligott believes the beauty of that plan was that York citizens were able to come together, see change coming and put a plan together to move toward it instead of letting change come to them. He believes this collaboritive robotics industry presents a similar opportunity for York.
"It's already at our doorsteps," McElligott said, referring to Voith, which houses a huge hydropower manufacturing facility in York, recently acquiring more than 25 percent of one of the world's leading supplier of robots, KUKA Group.
"Communication is the key," he said. "Everyone needs to be involved."
—Reach David Weissman at email@example.com.