CEO invokes York’s manufacturing past to revolutionize its future

Depicted on a downtown mural is what John McElligott considers one of York’s proudest moments in history – the York Plan. But instead of letting it fade into the past, he’s modernizing it for the age of robots.

Story paid for by: York Exponential
John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential, discusses the premise behind the York Plan 2.0, a re-imagining of the original York Plan enacted by the area more than 70 years ago. (Our York Media)

Pick up a newspaper, take a deep breath, and peer across a world cloaked in uncertainty. The economy lurches forward, still recovering from collapse just as new and dire events unfold around the globe. Foreign leaders call out to America for help. An ocean away, war rages.

The year is 1940.

In those tense pre-World War II days, though, as fear roiled each hour, a plan was quietly emerging in York. Four industrialists. Three principles. Six months to get it done.

The York Plan, as it was eventually known, became nothing short of revolutionary for wartime manufacturing and production. During the crisis that followed, it changed everything.

Seventy-plus years later, the global landscape today is eerily similar. And it’s time for York to change the world once more.

“The nation needed someone to follow, and York stepped up,” said John McElligott, CEO of York Exponential. “Today we’re in almost the same situation—and we think York can take the lead again.”

John McElligott stands in front of a mural depicting The York Plan near the downtown McDonald’s recently. Today, his company is at the forefront of a push to once more revolutionize manufacturing in York using those same principles, but this time with one key new ingredient—robots. (Our York Media)

The York Plan 2.0

On the brink of war, The York Plan took what the area was already good at – manufacturing – and super-charged it. By working together, local manufacturers could win defense contracts and ensure job opportunities. But beyond that, they put politics aside and called on the greater good to bring a community together.

Today that blueprint still looks modern.

Maker spaces; crowd sourcing; idea sharing: it was the “uberization” of manufacturing at a time when no one else had even thought of it. And it was just in time. When the war came and the federal government scrambled for a system, The York Plan was implemented across the nation.

“Not one of them could build a tank alone,” McElligott said, “but they could each create a piece and build it together.”

I’ve always believed that technology will be the key to the future, and here in York it’s not even really about reinventing anything. It’s about remembering.

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John McElligott CEO of York Exponential

Today, York Exponential is at the forefront of a push to once more revolutionize manufacturing from right here at home using those same principles, but this time with one key new ingredient—robots.

If a business is struggling to find extra workers, York Exponential offers human-size rental robots. If a company wants to permanently augment its workforce, then new “cobots” to work beside current employees are on the way.

But that’s just one piece of York’s future. For the complete picture, it takes a community coming together.

It takes creating The York Plan 2.0.

“I’ve always believed that technology will be the key to the future, and here in York it’s not even really about reinventing anything,” McElligott said. “It’s about remembering.”

John McElligott walks around the future site of The York Plan 2.0 Innovation District that will soon rise in York’s Northwest Triangle. (Our York Media)

Building the future of York

A building will soon rise from York’s Northwest Triangle – The York Plan 2.0 Innovation District.

There would be space for alternative manufacturing and robotics research. Spaces for laboratories, prototyping, offices and meetings. Spaces for co-working, startups and community gathering. It could house business accelerators and incubators, as well as retail and micro-housing for students and researchers. Anything that might serve to fuel York’s ongoing transformation to an innovation hub.

Here, the next generation of engineers and mechanics will work on collaborative robots that will be programmed and managed by anyone willing to learn – not just coders or those with a college degree.

That will mean good, walkable jobs in York. And it will be the gateway to the future of manufacturing first at home, then across the country.

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York Exponential recently hosted Latinos Unidos of York for a tour of its headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue. (Our York Media)

But the work is just beginning. Thanks to decades of squandered patents and unfulfilled potential, the future has long been moving away from us, McElligott says. Tomorrow is made overseas.

With plans on paper and the jumpstart of a $6 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, the vision of the Innovation District is springing to life.

“Once the people here put their minds to a job,” he said, “it’s like an unstoppable freight train.”

While robots light up and extend their arms to do the heavy lifting at York Exponential, the work McElligott and his team are doing is just one part of the plan. For it to truly work, he says, it takes all of us.

“Are we going to look at the York Plan and say it’s our history, or will we look at it and say it’s our legacy?” McElligott says. “History is something you look back upon. Legacy is something you live up to.”

John McElligott believes it will take a community coming together to make his full vision of a second York Plan a reality. (Our York Media)

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