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Gov. Thornburgh’s Legacy Spans Generations, Provides a Blueprint for Pennsylvania’s Future

As Pennsylvania fights back from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decisions our elected leaders make while facing the preeminent challenge of their time will have a resounding influence on current and future generations in the decades to come.

Such was the case 38 years ago when Governor Dick Thornburgh rose to the challenge of one of the most precarious economic periods in Pennsylvania history. After years of decline, the industries and jobs synonymous with our communities were rapidly disappearing and the state unemployment rate loomed at nearly 15 percent. Pennsylvania’s economy was uncertain, and there was great concern about where jobs were going to come from in the future. The Commonwealth needed a path forward.

Fortunately, Gov. Thornburgh understood emerging economic trends and had a vision for Pennsylvania. His idea embraced the promise of high-paying, sustainable jobs created because of technological advances and breakthroughs achieved by the Commonwealth’s tech-based entrepreneurs and innovative manufacturers.

Gov. Thornburgh took stock of Pennsylvania’s numerous resource – four of the top 50 research universities in the country and a substantial workforce of engineers produced by universities across the state – and formulated an action plan that would eventually become a national standard for innovation-based economic development.

To harness the power of our state’s brightest minds and create a platform to provide Pennsylvania’s most promising early-stage technology firms and established manufacturers with the necessary support to grow and thrive, Gov. Dick Thornburgh strongly advocated for the creation of the Ben Franklin Partnership. He had a clear goal – to drive the transformation and growth of Pennsylvania’s economy through the application of science and technology to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship – all to Pennsylvania’s economic advantage.

Gov. Thornburgh named the partnership after one of Pennsylvania’s most influential residents, reasoning that Benjamin Franklin evidenced the exact skills that would make the program work – merging science, innovation, business acumen and statesmanship to serve the greater good. His efforts resulted in a dynamic, flexible foundation for innovation that has earned bipartisan support since its inception.

Gov. Thornburgh’s work continues today, stronger than ever, as the Ben Franklin Technology Partners is recognized internationally as the gold standard for technology-based economic development – supporting the creation of more than 148,000 jobs and boosting the state economy by more than $25 billion since 1989. According to independent research, Ben Franklin generates a $3.9-to-$1 return on investment and has allowed the Commonwealth to develop a diversified and resilient economy that contributes to the quality of life we all enjoy.

Gov. Thornburgh understood that Pennsylvania’s best opportunity compete on a national and global scale rested on our ability to surround its world-class talent with the resources that provide the stability, guidance and experience needed to grow and thrive. He embraced an understanding that investing in innovation and technology makes sense for Pennsylvania in the best of times, and especially in the most challenging of times.

As we honor Gov. Thornburgh’s life and legacy, we find that his enduring vision continues to touch the lives of Pennsylvanians every day. Gov. Thornburgh’s leadership during one of our state’s most trying times serves as a blueprint for the strategy we must collectively embrace as we march toward a brighter and more hopeful future. Now more than ever we must commit to the innovative ideas and the local businesses that create family-sustaining jobs in our communities and ensure the economic future for every man, woman and child who calls Pennsylvania home.