Chamber presents awards, hails local innovation

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce highlighted the accomplishments of the past year that include new and expanding technology companies, ongoing collaborations to improve the local economy and some new ideas to usher in “a new era for the Gainesville region” at the Toast to Business Thursday night.

The Chamber’s annual meeting was held at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center.

Outgoing Chairman Mike Gallagher, president and CEO of SantaFe HealthCare, said the efforts of the Council for Economic Outreach and community-wide support for the chamber’s Innovation Gainesville initiative brought Mindtree and Silver Airways to Gainesville, and helped with the expansion and retention of companies such as Prioria Robotics, SumTotal Systems, Totuit, and others.

He presented a Chairman’s Award to Plum Creek timber company for its Envision Alachua process to involve the community in planning for economic development and conservation on its 65,000 acres in the county.

“The Envision Alachua project not only identifies great possibilities to develop a community through innovation and collaboration, but to help our county attract and grow industries in the fields of technology, health care, agriculture, alternative energy and many others,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher also presented a Chairman’s Award to Santa Fe College for “innovative, quick-to-market corporate training programs,” for incubating companies through its Center for Innovation and Economic Development, and for being part of the team that recruits and retains businesses.

RTI Biologics received the Innovation Award in recognition for the $14 million building now under construction in Progress Corporate Park in Alachua that will include research and development labs and clean rooms for production of a new line of stem cell implants. RTI plans to add 15 new jobs when the building opens and expects to grow further in the future.

In presenting the award, Rose Fagler of Plum Creek called RTI “a poster child of a homegrown, innovative company expanding in Alachua County. ... This expansion is just one example of how our community’s obsession with innovation is raising the standard of living, creating jobs in our community and changing the lives of people around the world.”

New Chamber Chairman Mitch Glaeser, vice president of The Emory Group family of companies, highlighted various efforts to help economic development such as the numerous business incubators in the county. He said the county and municipal governments have joined forces with the chamber to “embrace the innovation economy” and that cooperation has never been better between Santa Fe College and the University of Florida “for our youth to release their entrepreneurial spirit.”

He told a story about his brother, Christopher, who left Gainesville after graduating from UF with a degree in computer science in the 1970s and moved to Silicon Valley to start a tech company.

He said the story is relevant “because Gainesville is ushering in a new era. Because the days of our shining stars moving away after being educated by one of the best educational institutions in the world is changing.”

“The time has come to grow more organically inspired companies and keep our highly productive, highly engaged citizens here at home and in our region,” Glaeser went on. “When this is done, job opportunities open up for all our citizens.”

Looking ahead, Glaeser said he wanted to plant the seed for a convention center and public arena. He unveiled an idea for a contest to redesign I-75 overpasses at the north and south end of the city to welcome people to Gainesville and for a low-frequency radio station to promote local cultural attractions and businesses.

Glaeser announced that the chamber will be coming out with a new policy on education chaired by Rick Staab of InterMed to address issues of kids who are not prepared for kindergarten, do not graduate from high school and qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“At some point, this community must hug all our children with the same zest and passion as we hug our trees.”

Adrian Taylor, pastor of Springhill Missionary Baptist Church, received the Volunteer of the Year Award for chairing the chamber’s Transportation Task Force that comes up with recommendations for a county transportation tax.

Kristen Hadeed, founder of Student Maid, was named Diplomat of the Year for representing the chamber at events and recruiting new member businesses.

Gallagher recognized Sonia Douglas, who resigned effective Thursday as vice president and chief operations officer after 20 years at the chamber to pursue other opportunities.

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