Empower Erie News & Updates

$10M Investment aims to transform Erie County

Posted on October 14th, 2016 at 3:51 PM

$10M Investment aims to transform Erie County

This article was originally written by Gary Weiss and published on GoErie.com.

As Erie County, wracked by persistent poverty, economic decline and low educational attainment, continues to take a renewed look at itself and its future, a $10 million joint investment announced Wednesday plans to transform the region by targeting critical areas of need.

The money will fund four projects across Erie County, specifically addressing education, youth, neighborhoods, and innovation.

Officials with the Erie Community Foundation, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and the Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy made the announcement Wednesday at an event attended by more than 125 cross-sector community leaders on the front steps of the foundation, 459 W. Sixth St.

Grants include $4 million to Mercyhurst University for the Downtown Erie Innovation District; $4 million to Empower Erie for an Erie County Community College; $1.5 million to the Erie School District for the "community schools" project; and $500,000 to Gannon University to revitalize sections of the city's east and west bayfront neighborhoods.

The $10 million will be distributed over a three-year period as benchmarks are met, officials said.

"This is a unique moment in our community's history," Mike Batchelor, the foundation's president, said Wednesday. "The recently completed city comprehensive plan, Erie Refocused, and numerous other studies reveal pathways out of poverty are access to education and training, and a revitalization of our urban core. We now have the resources to accomplish these goals."

Thomas B. Hagen, chairman of the board of Erie Insurance, established the $10 million Hagen Fund in December on behalf of the Hagen family.

The endowment is named in honor of Hagen's late wife, a prominent community leader and philanthropist, who was Erie Insurance's longest-serving board member. She died in June 2015 at age 79.

"When we set up the fund, we intended to have this kind of impact," Hagen said to the crowd at Wednesday's event. "We're here for a better tomorrow for Erie."

Wednesday's announcement marks the largest grants ever awarded by the Erie Community Foundation in its 80-year history.

"Each of these projects has the potential of bringing substantial, sustainable positive change to Erie for years to come," Batchelor added.

Awarding money isn't enough by itself to open a community college, as Erie County Council must vote to create and sponsor the school.

Empower Erie, a local nonprofit established to help bring a community college here, will be awarded $300,000 for an eight-month long planning study on the community college.

If Erie County Council votes in favor of creating and sponsoring the college, the Hagen Fund, foundation and ECGRA will provide $3.7 million of additional support.

County Council Chairman Andre Horton, an advocate for increased access to education and training across the region, said Wednesday that he has enough support on the seven-member council to move the community college initiative forward.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, who was at Wednesday's event, provided a letter of support to Empower Erie's grant application to the foundation for funding a community college.

"A technically-focused community college will help protect and grow our traditional industries while also creating an affordable pathway out of poverty for many," Horton said. "It will empower our citizens, attract jobs and build a workforce able to compete globally."

Erie County Council rejected county sponsorship of a new community college in 2010.

County Councilman Jay Breneman, who also provided a letter of support to the grant application to the foundation, said Wednesday that "the need for a community college has not only not gone away (since 2010), it has greatly increased."


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