John McElligott plans to bring York to forefront in 'fourth industrial revolution'

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, is confident in York's City's ability to retake its position as the world's manufacturing hub, to say the least.

So much so, in fact, that the owner of the city's only business dedicated to bringing robotics and artificial intelligence to the workforce says it could be on the forefront of what he calls the "fourth industrial revolution."

John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, is working to push York back to the forefront of manufacturing. John A. Pavoncello photo

Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, McElligott has traveled through Europe with his missionary family and served as a combat engineer in the Marines.

In York City, McElligott served as the vice president and chief communications officer of Royal Square Development, worked on the $11 million Market Street Revitalization Project and more.

Now, he dedicates his time to technological revolution and bringing maximum efficiency to the workplace — especially locally.

The beginning: The robotics-oriented journey began in 2015.

McElligott began the process by feeling out interest nationwide; he has explained his vision to communities and politicians, including several speaking gigs at the White House. 

The enthusiastic CEO said "everything was planned down the letter, and we lined all of this up to get ready to explode at one time."

The explosion has been quite the sight.

York Exponential is a local business that builds robots to work alongside, not replace, humans.  John A. Pavoncello photo

First, he created The Fortress, a programming and robotics boot camp that teaches fabrication, electric work and computer programming. The registered college will soon be taking over what was the old Western National Bank building at 301 W. Market St. 

He also created York Exponential, a company to bring advanced technology to the world's limited workforce by bringing simulations to life and distributing the finished products at its 1270 Roosevelt Ave. location.

After beginning with just three workers, there are now 30 employees, he said.

Now, McElligott is taking on a massive innovation district  project to be built on the city's Northwest Triangle, land that has laid barren for more than a decade.

More:York City to receive $6 million for innovation district

He said he hopes to make the space a nationally recognized robotics hub, offering spaces for local businesses, housing for employees and room for education and production of new technology.

The innovation district recently received a $6 million grant after being designated a federal opportunity zone, which exempts the facility from capital gains taxes. 

However, business plans are still in the works, and a timeline is currently unavailable, McElligott said.

The common goal of these efforts is to shine a light on the industry, put people in well-paying jobs and inspire them to create their own businesses, he said.

Danielle Schultz programs a York Exponential Cobot that serves coffee, Wednesday, August 21, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

The York Plan 2.0: McElligott is busy, to say the least. But that's what he says is necessary to put York back on the map.

When detailing his most recent efforts, he often refers to his goal as the York Plan 2.0.

The term alludes to the York Plan, the first ordnance contract for World War II that helped solidify the city as a manufacturing hub globally.

As an industrial city, York was one of the first to take a plunge and heavily invest in defense manufacturing.

As national tensions rose, local business leaders realized that cultivating as much man and machine power as possible could allow local factories to take on large government contracts — and that's what they did.

McElligott has the same idea in mind. But this time, he's picturing robots and artificial intelligence rather than weapons and supplies made for the battlefield.

BLUEPRINT event: York has been chosen for the site of the October VentureBeat BLUEPRINT event, which was most recently held in Reno, Nevada.

The popular American technology news website holds the event aiming to "bring together large tech companies with economic development agencies, venture capital players, universities, incubators, accelerators and growth start-ups to build connections needed to accelerate prosperity in the heartland," the website states.

York Exponential is a local business that builds robots to work alongside, not replace, humans.  John A. Pavoncello photo

The event will be coming to York from Oct. 9 to 11 at the Strand Theatre at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts and will feature speeches from Gov. Tom Wolf and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich as well as powerhouses in the robotics industry.

McElligott said he became interested after attending the event in Reno. After pitching York Exponential and the York Plan 2.0 to attendees, they were all on board.

"This event allows us to accelerate the company and to have an international media platform to get that message out," McElligott said. "This is the first opportunity to get all of these people in one place to show them what York has to offer. They're investing in the community and the future."

Game plan: One reason the  publication was interested, he said, was his game plan and how the company plans to revolutionize the York economy.

"Think of us as the Comcast of robot installs," he said. "We envision the future being fleets of vans filled with people we trained from the middle class to install robots. The robots are safe, small, easy to program and made to work with people, not replace them."

McElligott said that many people may be reluctant to accept what they see as an uprising of a robotic workforce that will take all human jobs. 

To that, he says, his plans are to "augment, not automate, the workforce," an effort that he said puts York Exponential among one of three of its kind in the world.

"A lot of what we focus on is going after opportunities where companies haven't been able to fill a position," he said. "We look for opportunities where a human doesn't want to do the job or there is no human to do the job. Robots do the dull, dirty and dangerous, and humans do something more creative."

Additionally, the robots will be able to be hired similarly to the way temporary employees are hired, he said.

York Exponential is a local business that builds robots to work alongside, not replace, humans.  John A. Pavoncello photo

The robots will take on a range of tasks, from mundane picking up and placing duties to welding, he said.

All of these duties, he added, are equally important in helping York step to the forefront of the technology industry — and stay there.

That was the problem with the first York Plan, McElligott said: The community quickly "forgot" about their status as a manufacturing mecca after World War II.

He is confident that York can get back on top, "but we can't forget this time," he said.

"With the first York Plan 77 years ago, leaders came together, saw the future coming, and the rest of the nation followed," McElligott said. "We believe we're at that inflection point again. We can be ready for the fourth industrial revolution, and there's no reason we can't lead the world again."

McElligott concluded that York is just seeing the beginning, and much more is expected in the upcoming weeks that will make his current efforts "pale in comparison."