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Incubating business in Wayne

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WAYNE COUNTY, PA — Five years ago, local economic developers found a conundrum in Wayne County. On one hand, the area was rather entrepreneurial for a rural community: 80% of local businesses had a staff of 10 employees or fewer, and 60% had a staff of five or fewer. However, the county also had a lower per capita personal income than surrounding areas.

“It really wasn’t for the lack of good jobs here, it was the mix of jobs,” said Mary Beth Wood of the Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO). “We had more jobs in lower wage earning industries than we had in higher wage earning industries.”

Wood gave the examples that around 6% of jobs in a community should be in the technology sector—a higher wage earning industry; Wayne County was only at 1.8%. Similarly, manufacturing jobs should make up about 11% of employment; here it only made up 3.4%.

Members of WEDCO and other strategic planning groups like Wayne Tomorrow, realized they needed to find a way to feed the community’s entrepreneurial spirit, while providing the necessary technology and amenities to avoid falling behind other areas. Their solution was to create a business incubator and co-working space, known today as The Stourbridge Project.

The opportunity behind the idea was not obvious to the community right away. “At first everybody thought of [the Stourbridge Project] as just space,” said director Susan Shaffer at a recent open house. “It’s so much more than that.”

Located at the former Stourbridge Elementary School building, the project offers residents access to technologies such as 3D printing, a host of software programs and, most importantly, high-speed internet.

“If you think about it, the internet is now as important as a highway,” said Wood. “If we don’t have those connections we will fall further and further behind.”

Since getting up and running, many freelancers and independent contractors have utilized the project’s resources. However, some larger local businesses have been taking advantage as well. Notably, Highlights Magazine for Children produces all of the music for its digital content out of its recording studio there. Yoga International also films videos using rooms that are available to all residents.

Wood said that in addition to Stourbridge, groups like WEDCO and Wayne Tomorrow are looking to attract employers to the Sterling Business and Technology Park, located near Interstate 84, which provides space and resources for more industrial companies.

With the success of the Stourbridge Project, strategic planners also want to bring similar community hubs to more parts of Wayne County.

“We are really, really booming with ideas, activities and collaboration,” Wood said. “This is a beginning, it’s not an end.”

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