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Victor testifies on vital role of gaming revenue

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mercyhurst University President Michael Victor joined local leaders invited to testify today before the House Gaming Oversight Committee at a public hearing to gather testimony from local stakeholders about the impact gaming revenue has had in improving the region since Presque Isle Downs & Casino first opened in Erie County in 2007.

Erie County receives nearly $11 million in casino gambling revenue annually, which is allocated by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority in support of many projects, including those affecting Mercyhurst.

Victor spoke about the gaming revenue funds as they affect the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture, plans for the Mercyhurst-led Downtown Erie Innovation District and the Mercyhurst-Penn State Behrend Ignite Erie collaboration.

Here is the complete text of President Victor’s remarks:

Good morning Chairman Petri, Chairman Harkins, committee members, representatives of the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, and invited guests. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

When we talk about charting the City of Erie’s growth within the context of a new knowledge-based economy, when we talk about driving entrepreneurship and innovation, when we talk about elevating the arts and culture of a community, Mercyhurst University emerges as an essential strategic asset.

In assuming that kind of impactful leadership, Mercyhurst relies heavily on a trusted benefactor in the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority.

The impact of gaming revenue funds allocated by ECGRA cannot be underestimated. Consider first: the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture. Since 2011, ECGRA has invested more than $275,000 in the Institute, allowing scores of nationally and internationally renowned artists to engage students and community members as well as marginalized populations of northwest Pennsylvania that would not otherwise have access to these kinds of world-class experiences. No other organization in the region has the facilities or the infrastructure to handle these prominent artists. A loss of ECGRA funding would have a detrimental effect on both the quantity and quality of arts and culture events available to the Erie community and beyond.

Founded in 1926 by the Sisters of Mercy of the Erie Catholic Diocese, Mercyhurst continues to build a legacy that can be traced back to the principles and teachings of Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Irish order in 1831.  Mercyhurst today is a major force in the educational landscape of the region, while remaining true to its mission as a private Catholic comprehensive college in the Mercy tradition. Among its many academic achievements, the university is the only higher educational institution in the region to be designated as a “regional asset” by Erie County government solely because of the unique and high-caliber performing arts programming we annually present to northwestern Pennsylvania audiences.

In recent years, Mercyhurst’s commitment to innovation and collaboration has come to the attention of ECGRA as a means of helping the City of Erie, a once-thriving manufacturing town, to reinvent itself within the context of a new knowledge-based economy. That economy is intended to stop brain drain and enhance brain gain, replace low-wage jobs with family-sustaining jobs, and revitalize downtown Erie through creation of an innovation district.

In September 2016, Mercyhurst University received a $4 million grant to lead development of a “Downtown Erie Innovation District” in collaboration with corporate partners Erie Insurance, McManis and Monsalve Associates and Velocity Network. ECGRA was among the project’s primary funding sources.

As planned, the partners intend to execute joint projects related to safety and security, specifically in the high-demand fields of data science and cybersecurity, where their combined skills will create a powerful business alliance and serve as a catalyst for economic growth. Specific to Mercyhurst, we are home to the Tom Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences, where we educate students in high-demand fields of cyber intelligence and big data, among others, making us ideally suited to lead this innovation district.

However, I cannot stress enough that a loss of gaming revenue funds would spell a major setback in the Erie region’s strategy to grow companies and create jobs. We have done a considerable amount of work since last fall, including a national search to identify our first innovation district president and CEO. That announcement is expected within a matter of weeks.

Mercyhurst’s leadership role with the innovation district is a direct offshoot of the Ignite Erie™ Industry-University Business Acceleration Collaborative, an ECGRA-funded initiative led by Mercyhurst and Penn State Behrend. ECGRA made a $750,000 commitment to the Erie universities to help spur innovation by students, faculty, local industry and emerging entrepreneurs.

Out of that initiative, Mercyhurst launched Quickstarter, a strategy designed by one of our intelligence studies professors to build successful online crowdfunding campaigns for local entrepreneurs. All told, in two years, Quickstarter has counseled 143 entrepreneurs; conducted 24 actual campaigns, of which 22 were successful; created 94 jobs and had an economic impact of $323,000 in Pennsylvania, including $258,000 in Erie.

All of this could come to a screeching halt without your help. I tell you only one story – the Mercyhurst story – but I am well aware that these gaming revenue funds are invaluable to hundreds of Erie County nonprofits and municipalities. I urge you to protect these vital resources for the betterment of our people and our communities.

Thank you for your attention.