Todd Erdley has lived almost his whole life in State College, and that’s the way he likes it. But when he founded his technology company there, Erdley realized the college town presented some limitations: it wasn’t very good at attracting other companies, or keeping talented employees. Rather than move, Erdley has set out to make State College a hub of industry, technology and entrepreneurship.
And the offices of Videon, Erdley's tech company, look the part: start-of-the art technology and great perks for the employees.
“The dogs are running around, we have the garden, we have the kegerator, we have the new coffee machine, the masseuse comes in on Thursday," said Erdley as he walked through Videon's airy, brightly-lit offices.
Videon’s vibe is far more Silicon Valley than Happy Valley. But when Erdley started the company, he didn’t think twice about the location.
“I grew up here my entire life," he said. "I’m a Coral Street guy. I’m a State College guy. I’m a Penn State guy. I was out of this town for a total of nine months out of 51 years.”
State College is his home, the place where he is happiest. But over the years, Erdley has found that bringing Silicon Valley to Central Pennsylvania isn’t as simple as adding a kegerator.
“The thing about Silicon Valley, though, that’s really hard to capture is what really makes the valley great, which is the spirit of exchange, the spirit of sharing, the fact that you can bump into other like-minded people that you resonate with.”
Erdley started the Centre Regional Enterprenuerial Network, and he has seen the number of companies in the area grow. Based on that success, Erdley has taken it upon himself to create an ambitious plan to bring even more private industry to State College—and talented employees with it. Like everything in this town, the plan was inspired by Penn State.
“When all these companies like Raytheon and Urata and C-CORE and Corning all disappeared, Penn State did a great thing," said Erdley. "It added about a billion dollars of research and development. That R&D helped mitigate the loss of all these companies.”
Erdley thought private companies in State College could challenge themselves to match that, by earning, what else, a billion dollars a year.
But a billion dollars a year seemed so paltry.
“And then I thought, ehh, you know what? It would be better if we had a bigger goal, so we had $2 billion. And then somebody said, you know what, if we would make it a 20 year goal, wouldn’t that be cool?," said Erdley. "And I said, 20 years! And this was in 2013. Why not go for three billion in 2033? 3B33.”
When Erdley set that challenge in 2013, private companies were earning $650 million a year. Getting that number to $3 billion is "very doable. It’s done by entrepreneurial companies growing. It’s done by companies like Videon continuing to grow. And it’s done through recruitment of new companies coming in. It’s very, very, very doable.”
But for that to get done, State College is going to have to put down the red Solo cup and start to move past it’s college days. Erdley says the area doesn’t do much to attract or retain young professionals, “and that’s a gap. We need to show that demographic that this town loves them and this town will do what they can to enroll them so that they have meaning, purpose, opportunity.”
Todd Erdley likes State College the way it is. But he loves the State College that could be, the one that attracts young talent, inspires entrepreneurs and cashes in on big business. And he’s finally seeing that new State College begin to emerge, through Penn State’s Entrepreneurship program, start-up hubs like New Leaf and ambitious conversations about the future of State College.
“We are in an inflection point right now in this town. If you want some place that’s a green field of opportunity and you want to make a difference—and I would say this to an emerging professional or a long-standing resident—it is go time right now.”
Visit wpsu.org/reasonstostay to share the reasons you’re staying or going, to see pictures of Todd Erdley’s little Silicon Valley in State College, and to see the stories of others exploring their decision to stay—or not— in central Pennsylvania.