Editorial: Critical mass


Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 1:45 p.m.

We're inching closer to reaching critical mass.

Gainesville is expecting an official announcement soon on whether Mobiquity Inc. has chosen the city for an expansion that could bring 260 jobs here. The Massachusetts-based company develops mobile applications and advises companies on their mobile strategies.

Last month, Sears Holding Corp. announced the establishment of an internship program with the University of Florida in information technology services. The partnership is expected to pave the way for Sears to open a Gainesville office providing those services.

When India-based Mindtree Limited last year chose UF's Innovation Square development for its first U.S. software development center, the hope was that other technology companies would follow. If Gainesville is going to retain UF graduates as well as attract an educated workforce from elsewhere, there needs to be options for workers to feel confident about establishing roots here.

It seems fairly obvious that those kind of companies have a multiplier effect. Service-industry businesses from dry cleaners to restaurants benefit when good-paid jobs are added to the local economy.

Yet there is some vocal local sentiment that Gainesville is being elitist with its efforts to attract high-wage, high-skill jobs. Mayor-elect Ed Braddy suggested during the campaign that he didn't subscribe to the idea that those jobs have a trickle-down effect and there needs to be more of a focus on creating blue-collar jobs.

To be sure, attracting high-tech companies doesn't solve every problem. Even Richard Florida, the prophet of promoting the benefits of cities drawing a creative class of workers, concedes that higher housing prices in such clusters can erase trickle-down benefits for lower-income residents.

It's an issue worth attention as Gainesville's economy continues to grow. But shutting off that growth is a perverse way to solve it. While Braddy is right to focus on improving transit and keeping electricity rates affordable for lower-income residents, that doesn't mean we should abandon efforts to make the city into an attractive and livable place for everyone.

Companies such as Mobiquity have numerous cities vying to attract them. To win the day, Gainesville needs to play to its strengths as a university town that values culture, diversity and the natural environment.

If we're going to get to a critical mass of those companies, we've got to get over the idea that it's a bad thing to want Gainesville to be the kind of city where educated people want to live and work.

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