Vision of the future

Innovation Gainesville economic development plan unveiled


The exterior of the Charles R. and Nancy V. Perry Center for Emerging Technologies located in Alachua, Florida seen here on Thursday.

Aaron E. Daye/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:18 p.m.

Gainesville has all the resources it needs to create jobs and compete in an innovation economy - growing clusters of health and green technology companies, a steady stream of university research inventions, a quality of life that draws creative people, and college graduates who would stay if more local jobs existed.

The trick is to tie those components together so the entire education system, business community and area government can collaborate on preparing workers, nurturing companies and building strength in numbers to let the world know what Gainesville has to offer.

That is the idea behind the Innovation Gainesville economic development plan unveiled at Thursday night's annual Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting, held at the RD Air Services hangar at the Gainesville Regional Airport.

"I am convinced that our community is poised for economic success like never before in its history," said Eric Godet of Godet Industries International and the Chamber's new chairman. "I am convinced that we have all the tools necessary to succeed on a global scale."

In updating its five-year economic development plan, the Chamber and Council for Economic Outreach last year hired a consultant and turned the plan loose to get collaboration from the entire community, said Brent Christensen, Chamber president.

Consultant Richard Seline of New Economy Strategies of Washington, D.C., interviewed more than 300 people, and more than 200 participated in crafting the plan, including leaders in business, government, schools, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College, the arts and environment.

"The genius of the whole thing was getting as much diversity on the teams as possible and having the whole community feel like someone they knew or were connected to was part of the process," said Sue Washer during a Wednesday interview. Washer is president of Alachua biotech firm Applied Genetic Technologies Corp., who helped oversee the process.

The plan emphasizes growing and recruiting companies that build on the community's existing strengths - health technology companies spinning out of UF research and a cluster of environmental engineering firms and green technologies, as well as the nation's first solar feed-in tariff through Gainesville Regional Utilities.

Santa Fe College President Jackson Sasser said the jobs will be for all education levels.

For example, "every scientist needs three techs," he said. "This is a good day for the community. It's a better day for those who have not been enfranchised."

Christensen said that while health and green tech are the two "economic development flavors of the month" that every community wants, "95 percent of the people out there marketing to those areas don't have the resources that we have."

The plan comes just as two new resources are being developed - The Cade Museum of Innovation in Depot Park, which will include educational activities, and the UF Innovation Hub at the former Shands AGH site, which could help turn inventions into companies.

"We're sitting on a gold mine of assets here," said Sasser, who is also helping oversee the plans.

At Thursday's meeting,

While the focus will be on health and green companies, Christensen said any innovative company can be included, including local success stories such as O2B Kids day-care centers and Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers.

Exceptions would be for "non-green" companies that threaten the area's assets such as large water users, he said.

Five teams of 10 to 15 people came up with about 20 short- and long-term action plans, but the first-year plans include:

A $50,000 annual prize by the Cade Museum to an innovative company, with the Chamber chipping in free housing for a year at the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center incubator on Hawthorne Road.

Christensen said the contest is open throughout Florida, so Gainesville will either grow one of its own or attract a company from somewhere else.

Starting a local seed fund through a private-government partnership to help early-stage companies. That makes local startup companies more likely to stay here, which would show national investors "we're serious," Washer said.

Student internships.

Pushing STEAM - science, technology, engineering, arts and math - in schools, adding arts to the national STEM initiative.

Continuing to build networks and partnerships. The process already has created connections, Washer said, such as the Cade Museum's plans to have a summer program about entrepreneurship and innovation for middle schoolers, similar to a UF program for high schoolers.

Coming up with an "elevator pitch" - one that can be told in the time it takes to ride an elevator - so everyone can explain what Gainesville has to offer.

More information and a video about the plan are available online at www.innovationgainesville.com.

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