White House recognizes York tech initiative

David Weissman
  • The Fortress Initiative finalized its 5-year lease on the former Western National Bank building.
  • Fortress President John McElligott: "We can ... create our own unique tech culture."

The Fortress Initiative, which is planning to open its first Disruptive Technology center in downtown York later this year, was featured in a recent White House news release highlighting various science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) efforts.

Fortress CEO John McElligott stands outside the Western National Bank building Tuesday, June 30, 2015. The building, which housed the the Hoffman Baseball/Softball Training Academy, is being converted to house The Fortress--a computer programming and robotics training center. Bill Kalina photo -

The Fortress Initiative, a nonprofit organization, is working to create these educational advanced technology hubs in "third-tier" cities throughout the central Pennsylvania region, starting with the former Western National Bank building at 301 W. Market St., according to John McElligott, president of the organization.

The organization closed a five-year, renewable lease on the building, owned by York County YMCA, in early March; McElligott said the organization is currently working to raise $500,000 in private equity for various renovations in preparation of a fall 2016 opening.

"Our goal is not to make money," McElligott said. "Our goal is to be self-sustaining and have a positive community impact."

'My Brother's Keeper': The Fortress was one of 12 efforts featured in the White House news release under the "My Brother's Keeper Initiative," which was launched by President Barack Obama in 2014 to "address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure all young people can reach their full potential."

A rendering of the exterior of The Fortress, a 301 W. Market St. in downtown York, once construction is complete.

The Fortress Initiative is listed with partners MANTEC and SCPa Works for its plan to provide technical skills training to 17-to-29-year-olds of all backgrounds, with a focus on young people of color, veterans and women.

John Lloyd, president and CEO of MANTEC, which serves as a consulting firm for manufacturers in southcentral Pennsylvania, said his organization is always looking to expand opportunities for minorities in manufacturing.

McElligott said he has attended a couple of White House summits focused on preparing for "the Mars generation," America's youngest students nicknamed for their potential to be to the first to step foot on another planet.

Unique focus: The Fortress Initiative was unique among the other groups attending the summits because of its focus on smaller cities and manufacturer-specific technology, McElligott said.

He said the educational focus of these centers will be on the expansive use of technology in the manufacturing sector.

"We can get ahead of the curve and create our own unique tech culture," McElligott said. "We're not interested in becoming like San Francisco."

A rendering of the completed interior of The Fortress, at 301 W. Market St. in downtown York. 3TC Robotics is hoping to transform the former Western National Bank building into a programming and robotics training center.

Lloyd said manufacturers are rapidly incorporating more and more technology to stay competitive, but the workforce available to utilize these innovations is barren.

"We need to make sure there's a pipeline of tech talent," Lloyd said. "There's a real void of training available to get people up to speed, and that need is growing seemingly every day."

Overall, McElligott's organization is aiming to raise $20 million for a multi-city Venture Fund by 2021. That will be used to invest in entrepreneurs and students from the initiative, he said.

Academy: Separate from The Fortress Initiative, McElligott will serve as the CEO of The Fortress Academy. The initiative will manage the building, while the academy will provide the actual training, McElligott said.

Programming and robotics training center, The Fortress, hoping to open in WeCo

Many of the academy's trainers are simultaneously employed as developers in order to ensure students are constantly receiving real-world training, he said.

"Tech moves so quickly," McElligott said. "It demands a rapidly changing curriculum."

The Fortress Initiative will also be leasing out space to other tech start-ups and educational providers, and McElligott said applications can be sent to

The initiative also teamed up with MANTEC and SCPa Works, southcentral Pennsylvania's workforce investment board, to apply for a $2.9 million federal grant through the TechHire Initiative.

The TechHire Initiative launched in 2015 with 21 communities and more than 300 employers "committed to providing Americans with the accelerated, nontraditional technical training they need to obtain better jobs and achieve better futures," according to its website.

Since its launch, the initiative has grown to 50 communities, according to the site.

McElligott said that program is unrelated to The Fortress Initiative's involvement in the "My Brother's Keeper Initiative."

— Reach David Weissman at