Kansas Governor Laura Kelly joined local leaders and students to race dragster cars and celebrate the grand opening of the Pitsco Idea Shop.
The celebration that marked the completion of Pittsburg’s Block 22 project featured speeches from Governor Kelly, Secretary of Commerce David Toland, CEO of Kansas Manufacturing Solutions Tiffany Stovall, Pittsburg State University president Steve Scott, Mayor Dawn McNay, and the Founder and CEO of Pitsco Education Harvey Dean.
Located in downtown Pittsburg, the Pitsco Idea Shop features state-of-the-art technology and equipment in a public space where innovators have access to equipment to help them realize their ideas.
PSU chief strategy officer Shawn Naccarato and city manager Daron Hall got together to talk about their ideas which focused on the preservation of the four buildings at the corners of Broadway and Fourth streets where Pittsburg had formed their first commerce-hub at the turn of the twentieth century.
“(That hub) was what drove the development of this thriving community,” Naccarato said. “It was the heartbeat of this community, and like so many towns like ours, it had declined for generations.”
Because of Naccarato and Daron’s efforts, the historic buildings are now home to PSU’s Block22 housing units, the Foundry, a variety of shops and restaurants, and the Pitsco Idea Shop.
“Really what today is about is celebrating the very things that not only make Pittsburg great, but what really makes America great,” Naccarato said. “(It is) what has always, and will continue to (be what makes us great), and that is a focus on collaboration, a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, and an immigrant spirit that has always embodied Pittsburg, Kansas with grit and determination.”
Stovall said it is projects like the Idea Shop that take us back to the roots of manufacturing.
“Because this is the heart of how this country was built,” Stovall said. “We are makers. We had ideas. We built things. And that’s what this is. This is the Idea Shop, (where) we can go from, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if?’ To a place where we can make that happen. We go from idea and innovation to entrepreneurship and commercialization, the thing that will create jobs. That’s what we are talking about here.”
Naccarato said it became clear early on that the notion of a maker’s space would be something they would want to include in the project.
“If we were going to have an entrepreneurial ecosystem, we needed to make a space,” Naccarato said. “I talk a lot about the notion of strategic serendipity. I think this is a great example of that. Harvey Dean and his team, Matt Frankenberry and others, helped to really drive the specific vision of who we were going to target to get into this place. And the biggest thing that did for us was to shift our focus from just college students and community members to that 6-12 grade demographic.”
For a notion like the Pitsco Idea Shop to become a reality takes many factors, from the collaboration of dedicated community and private partners to efficient state government and educational institutions that have a deep commitment to their community.
“It takes vision…and a very special sponsor,” Scott said. “So, to Harvey Dean and his terrific team at Pitsco, I want to say thank you for making this possible.”
Dean said he and Scott have had more than one conversation about the need of more places that provide younger people opportunities to think, innovate and build things. He said he was once “saved” by a shop teacher who encouraged him to nurture his talent of making things with his hands.
“We want our kids to engage in learning and like to learn…” Dean said. “The Idea Shop is going to be unmatched I think anywhere, certainly in this region, and I believe nationally it has implications there too.”
The special event included a dragster car competition between dignitaries and students using cars built in the Idea Shop. Naccarato said that Pitsco Education is proof of the role that free enterprise plays in solving everyday challenges which help students learn better.
“So, there’s a special moment here,” Naccarato said. “…we’re going to be launching and using… a product that was one of the things that helped launch Pitsco Education 50 years ago.”
Alyssa VanWey, freshman in English, was hired in September to help students assemble their dragster cars and prepare for the event.
“I think it’s been a really rewarding experience,” VanWey said. “It’s really fun to have all these students come in and…get them excited about working in the garage and the idea studio. We’re really excited to have our big race today, too.”
The Idea Shop provides everything from 3-D printers and laser engravers to skill saws and CNC routers to help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into realities. Antara Das, graduate student in mechanical engineering technology, helped area students to safely navigate the different kinds of machines used to make the dragster cars for the grand opening event.
“I make sure they’re all working safely, they’re all following our safety rules very strictly, and then there’s no accident or anything,” Das said. “I have been guiding them on how to use the machines to make the car shape and the wheels and things like that. I loved working with students, and I liked meeting different kinds of patrons from our community…it’s been a great experience.”
At the end of Friday’s celebration, the students got to dragster cars got to race them on Pitsco’s 80-foot track. Kansas Manufacturing Solutions provided the Pitsco car-kits, prizes, and t-shirts for the grand event.
Kelly said her administration is committed to supporting more projects like Block 22 and the Pisco Idea Shop which encourage entrepreneurship, the development of new technologies, and the recruitment of new industries.
“That includes right here in Southeast Kansas,” Toland said. “I’m very proud to say that new job creation in the Southeast Kansas region is up 23% over where we were in 2018. But that’s just the start. New capital investment in Southeast Kansas is up a whopping 40% over where we were just two years ago.”
Scott said the Pitsco Idea Shop is a worthy and exciting investment in our shared future.
“…Pittsburg State University is intentional about building the future of Southeast Kansas and investing our resources to achieve economic prosperity for this community, and every single person who lives here,” Scott said. “In my mind, the Pisco Idea Shop isn’t just the cherry on top of it all. It literally brings us together, and…demonstrates the concepts of innovation, entrepreneurship, and yes, economic prosperity. In Southeast Kansas we can only do things by working as partners. And this is such a great example of how when partners work together…we can get some amazing things done…we can celebrate something moving forward that is better than it was. That’s important.”
McNay said the ability to be resilient this year was forged from the entrepreneurial spirit of our business community and the strong relationships between organizations who care about our community.
“Block 22 is evidence of both,” McNay said. “Block 22 has ignited the energy in our downtown with student housing, restaurants and shops, and it has ignited pride in our community.”
The Idea Shop staff looks forward to collaborating with area youth and community members who have ideas they want to transform into realities. People interested in memberships can contact the Pitsco Idea Shop at their website (pitscoideashop.com).