Harrisburg’s tech boom of the last few years may not be over.
At least that’s the way it feels right now in the capital city. Harrisburg University of Science and Technology is surging with student growth; university programs are expanding into new spaces downtown that also house tech startups where students can pick up real-world experience; and one of the city’s core investors, Harristown Enterprises, continues to look at mixed-use redevelopment opportunities to bring it all together.
Downtown apartments and expanding retail and restaurants have been a big focus along Third and Market streets. The development stands to benefit HU and local tech entrepreneurs who are now calling Harrisburg home.
On Tuesday, Harristown facilitated a formal ribbon-cutting with Mayor Eric Papenfuse and HU officials at the Blackberry Technology Center, a privately developed three-story facility tucked off Third and Market streets. It opened last year to serve HU and local tech partners.
Every entity in the small building, a former hardware store that sat vacant for many years before local developer Mayur Patel renovated it, employs HU students. Blackberry has been full since about the day each floor was renovated, prompting calls to replicate the model downtown.
HU President Eric Darr has heard those pleas and said Tuesday that Blackberry is just the first of multiple tech-focused facilities that could soon be operating in Harrisburg. He expects a lot more to come over the next 12 to 18 months.
With the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. looking to sell its tech incubator, the Murata Business Center in Carlisle, to focus instead on Harrisburg, partnership ideas with HU have been floating around in recent months. Darr said there could be separate facilities to support small startup companies and more mature firms looking to grow.
All indications are that these tech hubs will be bigger than Blackberry, which is about 3,600 square feet, and that the target area will be on or near Market Street and the university. Redevelopment buzz surrounding areas around the Harrisburg Transportation Center, the capital city’s train station, is fueling some of the talk about tech incubators and accelerators.
And let’s not forget Startup Home, a United Kingdom-based company, that is planning to launch its first U.S. co-living and co-working facility in Philadelphia this spring. Pittsburgh and Harrisburg are the company’s next target areas. So that could add another tech-heavy facility to the mix.
As Papenfuse put it Tuesday, the tech boom is “very real in Harrisburg.” Harristown CEO Brad Jones called HU the foundation of economic development in the downtown.
Meanwhile, he’s preparing to add more luxury apartments in and around Strawberry Square. And various commercial users — from office users to retailers and restaurateurs — are sniffing around downtown looking for the right lease deal.
Don’t be surprised if real estate starts to move soon on the other side of the train station along Market Street toward Cameron Street. There are several available buildings in need of an overhaul. Momentum near HU could trigger more investors to start kicking the tires on real estate deals.