Former Jail to Find New Life as YSU Innovation Center

By Elizabeth Lehman

Youngstown State University has been steadily progressing in making the dream of a new innovation and career technical center a reality for the campus and the community.

The Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center will be located in the former misdemeanant jail downtown. In early October, the U.S. Department of Economic Development awarded the university a $2 million grant for the project.

On Oct. 26, YSU announced the public phase of its $100 million capital campaign. The center is featured as one of the campaign’s targeted philanthropic opportunities.

Brett Conner, associate professor in mechanical and industrial engineering, said the campaign’s goal is to raise $14 million more for the center.

Mike Hripko, YSU associate vice president for research, said YSU has already turned $3 million into $6 million for the center. He said the project has received funding from the 2016 State Capital Bill as well as the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration.

“We’re grateful for the support from the state, we’re grateful for the support from Appalachian Regional Commission and Economic Development Administration and we’re committed to achieving the goal that they set forth for us with their investment in us,” Hripko said.

Darrell Wallace, associate professor in mechanical and industrial engineering, said the origins of the idea of the center date back about 10 years. He said the former jail will provide a nice location for the center between downtown and campus and will be a secure facility.

“We’ve got a lot of the work that we do that is sensitive and certainly if industry wants to come in and work with ideas that are proprietary, that becomes important,” Wallace said. “It provides a nice bridge between the campus proper and our innovation partners, America Makes and Youngstown Business Incubator.”

Locally, Hripko said YSU has partnerships with not only the YBI, but also Eastern Gateway Community College and the area career and technical centers.

The university is also working with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturer’s Coalition, which Conner said will help prepare students for their future careers.

We have the opportunity to know what the needs are for a workforce and to be able to meet the needs and allow, at least from our standpoint, engineers and engineering technologists, to be able to have the knowledge and skill sets and hands on experience to walk right into those companies and work there,” Conner said.

Hripko said the center will feature advanced manufacturing technologies, centering around 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, as well as some other technologies.

“It includes also machining or embedded electronics, robotics. Traditional advanced manufacturing technologies such as welding and machining will also be conducted there because all of those skills are necessary in advanced product development,” Hripko said.

Wallace, Hripko and Conner all said the center will not benefit just STEM students, but will be a multidisciplinary center where students with various majors can learn.

“In today’s modern manufacturing and innovation world, there’s a combination of all academic disciplines, and certainly the business and the arts and the liberal arts and the health sciences are all areas where innovation and new technology can benefit,” Hripko said. “So we envision this center as being a space where many academic disciplines can engage and participate.”

Hripko said it’s still very early in the process of getting the center in place and he estimates it could take 18 months to two years to wrap up the project.

Conner said he thinks using the former jail as a learning center is a neat idea for Youngstown.

It shows the rebirth of Youngstown. I think being able to have a space that was once a jail and now turning into a place that brings life into the community is pretty exciting,” Conner said.

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