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Ridge unveils second high tech jobs venture

Thursday, October 21, 1999

By Frank Reeves, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

HARRISBURG -- Four months after promising to make Western Pennsylvania a leader in advanced chip design, Gov. Ridge yesterday pledged $2 million to build an online system that will enable businesses to collaborate via the Internet to create new products, tap new markets and share information.

In an effort to make Pennsylvania a major technology center, the two projects will be interconnected.

The initiative unveiled yesterday -- dubbed the "Lightning Manufacturing Project" -- is a partnership among the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a consortium of major companies and three of the state's leading universities. The Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse, the chip initiative formed in June, is a partnership among businesses, universities, the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the Pittsburgh Technology Council and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Digital Greenhouse officials expect to create 1,500 jobs in three years by making it easier for electronics companies to develop ideas, share technology and bring their products to market more quickly. Electronics giant Casio Computer Co. is the newest company to join the Greenhouse effort, Ridge said yesterday. The first three firms to lend their names to the project were Sony Corp., Silicon Valley chip software firm Cadence Design Systems Inc. and Oki Electric Industry Co., a $5.7 billion telecommunications giant that makes printers, fax machines, integrated circuits and components for wireless and fiber-optic systems.

The hope is that technology developed by the Digital Greenhouse partners can be sold to some of the manufacturing companies participating in Ridge's Lightning Manufacturing Project.

Among those companies are Ingersoll-Rand, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Agile Web and again, Cadence. Together, they will develop the technology on which the online system is based.

They have also agreed to secure $8 million for the full development of the system.

IBM, for example, is developing the technology infrastructure for the Virtual Corporation Management System, which is at the heart of the Lightning Manufacturing Project.

As described by IBM, the Virtual Corporation Management System "provides an on-line forum for groups of companies to collaborate as 'virtual corporations' for joint bids in manufacturing and design contracts."

Also joining the project are Lehigh University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Carnegie Mellon University.

In return for its $2 million investment, the Commonwealth receives what the Ridge administration hopes will be a boon to the state's economy: Pennsylvania companies in 15 industry sectors will be involved in the initial testing and development of the new business-to-business Internet technology. By its investment, the Ridge administration hopes Pennsylvania companies "will get on the ground floor of the new technology," an administration spokeswoman said.

The initial development of the new technology is expected to be completed early next year. Pennsylvania firms could begin using the business-to-business E-commerce system by the mid-2000.

Ridge announced the formation of the public-private partnership during a ceremony yesterday at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.

One of the first Pennsylvania industries to feel the impact of the Lightning Manufacturing Project could be the powdered metals industry, which employs about 10,000 people in Pennsylvania.

Ingersoll-Rand, the $8.3 billion international industrial products manufacturer based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., plans to tap into the new Internet technology as it seeks to develop ways to convert more than 100 different parts it manufactures into powder metal from other metal-fabrication processes. The company hopes to save as much as 25 percent of the original fabrication costs.

"At Ingersoll-Rand, we are continually accessing our parts lists to determine if there are new ways to create value or reduce costs through different manufacturing technologies," said Herbert L. Henkel, the company's president and CEO. "The powdered metallurgy industry offers some exciting opportunities."

Staff writer Dan Fitzpatrick contributed to this story.

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