New funding for York College 'Knowledge Park' gives startups room to grow

The former Schmidt & Ault Paper Co., in York City, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A piece of land purchased by York College more than 10 years ago will finally see a purpose, thanks to a state grant that will fund the creation of a "Knowledge Park."

The park will be a group of buildings offering space for collaborations between the college, industry partners, nonprofits and government entities. Private and public industry partners would be located together in the park to work with faculty and students.

For the companies, it would be a chance to access a highly educated workforce pipeline — students who would have co-op, internship and future employment opportunities, college officials said.

It would also give access to resources such as tax credits for high-skill jobs in the Keystone Innovation Zone.

York College’s J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship — which is located on the 40-acre site — is at capacity as a business incubator, said Jeffrey Vermeulen, the college's assistant vice president for external relations.

The former Schmidt & Ault Paper Co., in York City, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The J.D. Brown incubator would be first step for clients seeking to work with the college, and the Knowledge Park would provide a place to grow beyond the startup stage, Vermeulen said.

It's typical to "spend a lot of time celebrating startups," he added, "but we really need to also not forget about the support second-stage and later-stage ventures need to succeed and thrive."

A $6 million grant from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program was awarded in August to fund the repurposing of three buildings on the site of the purchased land.

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The project — which is estimated between $12 million and $14 million — is expected to be under construction within a year, Vermeulen said.

Many of those who already use the J.D. Brown center are interested in the technology sector and want to stay in the community, said state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, citing a York Suburban grad who came back to the area from California.

“They are growing jobs for York countians,” she said.

Entrepreneur Kyle Musco, co-owner of Moena, a software engineering development company, is shown at his office in York College's J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship in York City, Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert  photo

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It’s an opportunity for those industries to connect with young entrepreneurs who want to stay in the area. For example, The Fire Solutions Group recently hired 2018 York College grad Alexander Smith as a co-founder, chief technology officer and software developer.

York College purchased the former Schmidt & Ault paper mill — established in 1897 — in 2008 following demolition and environmental abatement of several buildings, with four remaining.

A warehouse that included the Kings Mill Depot became the J.D. Brown center at that time — financed with a two former RACP grants for about $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The former Schmidt & Ault Paper Co., in York City, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The other three buildings will be converted into the Knowledge Park — the King House, a former residence that will become the administrative support center for the complex: the West End Warehouse as a main entrance; and Kings Mill Warehouse, an interior crossroads.

The buildings have "good bones," Vermeulen said, so the renovations will largely retain the "historic charm of the structure.”  

They are located on the college's North Campus — down the hill and across the creek from the Kinsley Engineering Center, in York City, he said.

About a year ago, the York County Economic Alliance and its architects, along with state agencies led by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration, approached the college about updating the space in conjunction with the city's Codorus Creek beautification project.

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"We started thinking out loud," Vermeulen said, about using that project as a "catalyst" for repurposing the buildings.

A Cyber Security Institute — which would be new to the college — would also be located in the park, along with the Graham Innovation Scholars program and a community engagement center.

"Joining forces with Knowledge Park partners gives us the opportunity to create a project-based learning laboratory on our campus," college President Pamela Gunter-Smith stated in a news release.

The institute would offer students a cybersecurity management major with project-based learning  with industry partners in cybersecurity management, computer science, computer information systems, intelligence analysis and computer engineering.

The program would also offer the potential for accreditation from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security as a CyberSecurity Academic Center of Excellence.

It would fulfill a huge need for training in those fields, which are in high demand both in the county and across the state, Phillips-Hill said.