Prospects Looking Up for Southeastern PA Refineries

Efforts by concerned business leaders, workers, and federal and state officials over the past several months have in part resulted in improved prospects for three southeastern Pennsylvania refineries. Sunoco announced last year that it would close its Marcus Hook, PA refinery by the end of 2011, and then its large Philadelphia refinery by July 2012 if a buyer was not found. Shortly thereafter, Conoco-Phillips announced plans to close its Trainer, PA refinery. Since that time the potential for continued operation of the three refineries has improved.

According to a US Department of Energy report released in February 2012, these three refineries represented 50% of total east coast refining capacity in August 2011. There was concern that their closure would lead to large declines in the supplies of refined products such as fuel oil, diesel fuel, and gasoline, followed by price spikes.

PBF’s Delaware City, DE refinery, which was closed by Valero in 2009, reopened in November 2011. Delta Airlines announced in April 2012 that its subsidiary Monroe Energy would purchase Conoco’s Trainer refinery and begin producing jet fuel, gasoline and diesel there in fall of 2012. In June 2012, Sunoco announced that the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, would purchase its Philadelphia refinery and expand its operating capacity.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett unveiled a state-subsidized deal last week to save jobs in the oil and petrochemical industry by providing $15 million to support Braskem America Inc.’s takeover of a portion of Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery. Here, Braskem will produce polypropylene, a key ingredient used in the production of many types of plastic products.

The remaining uncertainty is over the future use of the part of Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery not acquired by Braskem. A recent evaluation of the facility performed by IHS Global Insight released in late June recommends that it be reconfigured as a multi-purpose energy and industrial park. The study found that the three uses with the highest market potential are shale-based dehydrogenation to produce propylene; natural gas liquids processing; and as a storage terminal for refined petroleum products.

The Delaware River has long been one of the major crude oil import centers in the US, with the incoming oil serving as the feed stock for the region’s large chemical manufacturing sector. As recently as 2009, there were 6 operating oil refineries along the river, so the prospect of the imminent closure of three of them would have significant, negative effects on the regional economy. If all three refinery initiatives move along successfully, the number of retained and restored jobs could return close to the level it was before 2009.

NextStage II Fund Receives $1.5 Million from Commonwealth Financing Authority

The Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) approved a $1.5 million investment in NextStage Capital II LP (NextStage II), a $25 million fund based in Greater Philadelphia. NextStage II, which has an extensive portfolio of companies in the region including, Agilence, Vizinex and others, will make 15 to 21 investments with an average target of $500,000 to $2 million per investment. Through this relationship, the CFA investment will result in an additional $15 million of private venture capital investments for Pennsylvania companies.

The CFA, through the New Pennsylvania Venture Capital Investment Program, has approved $5.5 million investment to help two early-stage companies grow and create jobs in Pennsylvania.

“Governor Corbett is committed to providing entrepreneurs and new companies with the start-up capital needed to grow their businesses and produce jobs,” said Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker. “These investments will provide early-stage technology companies with the venture capital and equity financing they need to jump-start their businesses and create new jobs.”

The New PA Venture Capital Investment Program generates significant private equity investment by requiring the venture capital firm to provide a match of three dollars into Pennsylvania companies for every one dollar in state funding. With this investment, the CFA has now committed $50.4 million of the $60 million available to venture capital partnerships for investment in Pennsylvania-based technology-oriented entities.

Based in Audubon, Montgomery County, NextStage II is an early-stage venture capital fund being organized with the objective of investing entirely in seed and early-stage software and technology-enabled services (software as a service) stage companies. The fund will focus on investments in the state’s northern and central regions, and in Philadelphia.

The New PA Venture Capital Investment Program is a catalyst to increase the availability of venture capital investment in Pennsylvania early stage and “seed” companies. The program is administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development, under the direction of the CFA.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware Renamed Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware is now Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware (Highmark Delaware). This change reflects Highmark Delaware’s affiliation with Pennsylvania-based Highmark Inc., (Highmark). To announce the name change, a new advertising campaign will run through August 27, and consists of cable TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, digital and outdoor messaging.

“While we’re adopting a new name, our commitment to provide our members with access to affordable, high-quality health care coverage remains the same,” said Highmark Delaware President Tim Constantine. “This name change emphasizes the wide range of resources that our affiliation with Highmark will bring to Delawareans. This is an exciting time for our company.”

To promote Highmark Delaware’s new name throughout the state, the 53-foot Highmark Direct mobile unit began touring the state this month. The expandable truck, which is used in other Highmark locations to assist with open enrollment events and screenings at customer locations, has traveled more than 150,000 miles since January 2009 and utilizes a sustainable biodiesel fuel derived from vegetable oil and animal fat by-products.

The state-wide truck tour began with an employee event at Highmark Delaware headquarters in Wilmington on July 23.

Drexel Computer Science Design Team Wins World Championship at Microsoft Imagine Cup

Drexel University computer science graduates Matt Lesnak, Keith Ayers and N. Taylor Mullen claimed a world championship in the Microsoft Imagine Cup technology design competition after their “Math Dash” game rose to the top from a field of 106 teams from 75 countries. The group, dubbed team “Drexel Dragons,” won the game design mobile category with a smartphone app that turns learning math concepts into a fun game.

“I am beyond words proud of these students,” said Dr. Frank Lee, an associate teaching professor in the College of Engineering, the co-director of Drexel’s game design program and the Drexel Dragons’ advisor. “This shows that Drexel and the game design program have produced some of the best game design and development students in the world, they have certainly earned all of the accolades they have coming to them.”

In the Worldwide Finals, which were held in Sydney, Australia, the Drexel Dragons edged out teams from Brazil, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania and Romania in advancing to the finals after day one. In the final round, Drexel’s group claimed the world title over teams from France and Hungary.

The Imagine Cup is considered to be one of the most challenging technology competitions in the computer science community. Overall, more than 300,000 students from around the world participated in the competition this year.

Imagine Cup includes three divisions: software design, game design and IT challenge. An international panel of judges from industry, media and entertainment chose the world champions after a rigorous three-day process.

The Drexel Dragons advanced through two rounds of competition, which began in the winter and culminated with the U.S. Championship in April and the team’s subsequent selection for the Worldwide Finals.

The team claims a prize that includes $8,000 and the opportunity to apply for a startup grant from Microsoft. Additionally, Microsoft will donate $10,000 to Drexel in honor of the team’s victory.

“Math Dash,” is a fast-paced game aimed at elementary-aged students, to reinforce math skill. Development of the game was part of the team’s senior design project. The group worked with area schools to field test and design the game and the group members plan to move forward with commercializing the game.

“When they started the project, the goal was to show that you can have a game that is wildly fun and addicting, while at the same time it teaches math to kids in a way the incorporates the best practices of math education,” Lee said. “They were successful in reaching both of their goals and the judges unanimously agreed.”