For John McElligott, founder of York Exponential, it was staring at a mural in the parking lot of the McDonald’s in downtown York that sparked those early moments of inspiration.

The painting depicted factory workers standing united with smokestacks in the background. Overhead, were words “The York Plan.”

McElligott never heard of the York Plan before, but he was intrigued. So, he started researching.

He found that in the spring of 1940, just before the U.S. entered World War II, the heads of four manufacturing plants in York collaborated on a plan that would mobilize local industry to contribute to the war they knew was coming, despite the fact that nobody wanted to be a part of it. The so-called York Plan quickly became the model adopted by the entire country for inventorying machinery and manpower and bringing them together to support the war effort.

“Most people don’t know this, but York, Pa., saved the world 75 years ago,” McElligott says.

After learning the history of York’s contributions to World War II, McElligott was inspired to design a new plan: York Plan 2.0. His plan would use the same principles those business leaders had used generations ago to transform York into an industrial powerhouse – except this time, instead of building tanks, they’d build robots.

McElligott’s company, York Exponential, is involved with building collaborative robots. He’s also launching The Fortress, a robotics programming and coding boot camp in the city. His next goal: the creation of an Innovation District to make sure York can lead the same way it did during World War II.

He found partners in Joe Wagman, chairman of Wagman Co. and developer Hugh Simpson. They found a site for his project: A parcel of land in the city’s Northwest Triangle. Next, they needed someone who could develop a design bold enough for their big vision.

For that, the three turned to Frank Dittenhafer at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects – someone they enjoyed working with and who was talented and trustworthy.

Dittenhafer was more than happy to take on the challenge.