FirstEnergy Foundation grant leads to more than $2M in state economic benefits

July 27, 2027

By Katherin DeFiore 

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Penn State News and mentions the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory in the Penn State College of Engineering.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Thanks to a FirstEnergy Foundation grant program, a partnership with the Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program at Penn State (PennTAP) and the Penn State College of Engineering’s Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory, and the engineering design work of more than 300 Penn State students, Pennsylvania businesses are reporting more than $2 million in economic benefits, according to Invent Penn State.

The Learning Factory provides the opportunity for businesses to sponsor a team of senior undergraduate engineering students to work on a project for the company over the course of a semester. The Learning Factory supports over 200 engineering design projects each year to help sponsors advance technical design challenges toward viable solutions.  

Since FirstEnergy Corporation first worked with PennTAP in fall of 2017 to sponsor two Learning Factory projects, the FirstEnergy Foundation grant program has helped 53 businesses in the commonwealth sponsor their own Learning Factory project by providing up to 50% of the sponsorship cost. PennTAP acts as the connection point between business and Penn State resources, helping to facilitate sponsorships for the Learning Factory projects.

“We’ve had the honor of distributing the funding from the FirstEnergy Foundation’s voucher program to small and mid-sized companies across the state,” said PennTAP Director Tanna Pugh. “It can be difficult for companies to make the initial upfront investment to pursue these back-burner, process improvement related projects, especially now and in the past two years over the course of the pandemic. This voucher program enables these projects to come to fruition, which often end up increasing efficiency and decreasing costs for the companies in the long run.” 

Since the inception of the FirstEnergy Foundation grant program, 53 participating businesses located across 29 Pennsylvania counties have reported resulting economic benefits in excess of $2 million, which was defined as time saved, increased sales, capital expense and costs avoided. Eighteen jobs have been created or retained as a result of the program, and 32% of the participating businesses are located within environmental justice zones, which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection defines as any census tract where 20% or more individuals live at or below the federal poverty line, and/or 30% or more of the population identifies as a non-white minority. 

“As a small business, grants that help us to participate in programs that might not fall within our financial priority list but may help move our business forward and strengthen the PA manufacturing sector are very much appreciated,” said Bob McGowan, chief executive officer and founder of Mission Critical Solutions, a metal fabrication company in Bedford County. “We may not have participated if it wasn’t for the grant. This project helped us to explore the use of one of our products in a custom application geared toward a potential new segment of our business. Having the Learning Factory team gave us dedicated and well-trained resources at our disposal.” 


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Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory