Articulate February 2019

Eric Godet Committed to Bridging Gaps

Written By: Chris Eversole, Photos by: Erica Brough John Sloan Allison Durham and Steffanie Crockett

Eric Godet has called Greater Gainesville home since 1993, and he’s played a wide array of roles – as a founder of RTI Surgical, owner of his business and a vice president of Haven Hospice. He’s also been a strong advocate for education, business and social programs.

Now Godet begins a new chapter as President and CEO of the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. He began serving as interim Chamber president in September and was permanently appointed to the position in December. His immediate plans include leveraging his strong relationships and institutional knowledge to bridge gaps across economic, racial and educational spectrums.

“I have the professional experience and passion for this community to be a game-changer at the Chamber at a very timely juncture in the organization’s history,” Godet said. “It’s a blessing to be in this position, especially as we embark on our 95th year of serving this community.”

Godet also plans to continue the Chamber’s engagement and action in relation to persistent problems.

“Racial and economic inequity are insidious forces in our community,” he said. “Meaningful, strategic work alongside the community to address inequity will continue to be a strong area of focus at the Chamber.”

Godet’s clarity about Greater Gainesville’s challenges is rooted in 25 years of experience in the region, along with a commitment to transparency.

With equal clarity, Godet points to forward movement that is evident across the region.

“Just look around us – it is evident across the region that a transformation is underway, especially in the last five years,” Godet said, pointing to several examples, such as urban core advancements like the collaborative efforts to transform Gainesville into the “New American City” and the plethora of new retail, cuisine and entertainment options across the region.

Godet also names as reasons for enthusiasm the flourishing startup community, increased retention of college graduates, improved city and county permitting and development processes, and major education wins, from kindergarten to career.

“The last five years have been winning ones, with UF’s top-10 ranking and Preeminence Initiative, as well as Santa Fe College’s No. 1 ranking by the Aspen Institute and the celebration of excellence over its first 50 years,” Godet said. “And now Alachua County schools are on their way to receiving much-needed repairs and improvements after the approval of the sales surtax,” he said, referring to the ballot initiative widely supported by voters, and to which the Chamber’s 2017 and 2018 i3 initiative was a precursor.

Despite these accomplishments, the stark reality of racial inequity is clear – as highlighted by the report a year ago by the Friendship 7 – a group comprised of the Chamber, the University of Florida, Santa Fe College, the City of Gainesville, Alachua County, the School Board of Alachua County and UF Health.

“We have quantified the challenge. Now it’s time to level the playing field across our community,” Godet said.

Chamber as a Catalyst

The Chamber is in a unique position to serve as the catalyst for change, Godet said.

“We are a convener,” he said. “We unify the community around transformative opportunities.”

Greater Gainesville is not an island to itself, and it must take a regional approach to economic development, Godet said. That starts with working better with the nine municipalities in Alachua County, and it extends to collaborating with surrounding counties.

“An economic development prospect that may not fit Alachua County may fit one of those other areas, and when that is the case, we need to demonstrate regional partnership and direct them there,” he said.

Godet also believes a key to progress is bringing more jobs to the Greater Gainesville region in industries that offer competitive wages across the educational spectrum, such as manufacturing, health care and others.

“These and other industries can pay well, and it is very important for us to balance our booming tech field with a diversity of industries that offer people at all levels of education job opportunities that allow them to support a family,” he said.

Godet is optimistic about business attraction and retention. The Chamber is courting several strong prospects in multiple industries, some of which have made site visits in recent months.

“During these visits, guests receivea unified story from the perspective of key community stakeholders – including municipal and county leaders and staff, the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, and representatives of CareerSource North Central Florida,” he said.

The Greater Gainesville region’s lifestyle amenities surprise and impress the lion’s share of visitors, he said, pointing to retail and entertainment enhancements at destinations like Butler Plaza and Celebration Pointe. Godet also mentioned Depot Park as a family favorite and community gathering place, as well as a strong example of a highly successful CRA project.

“The business and lifestyle amenities, along with our region’s unique energy inspire our visitors to positively envision what it would be like to live, work and play here,” Godet said. “And from all indicators, they like what they are imagining.”

The business expansion also impresses visitors – including startups outgrowing the UF Innovate |The Hub; the award-winning Sid Martin Biotech Incubator as a forerunner to new opportunities such as the development of Tech City in Alachua; the success of Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development as a herald of good things to come as the College continues to progress on plans for the Blount Center; and the completion of the new Merieux Nutrisciences building next to the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) in East Gainesville.

Finally, the visitors are often impressed with the quality of local health care institutions — including nationally ranked UF Health, award-winning North Florida Regional Medical Center, and the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center, one of the nation’s top-ranking VA hospitals.

“The impact of our health care institutions is imperative to the local economy in the form of jobs and massive growth and expansion in recent years, as well as being magnets for organic medical tourism,” Godet said. “That’s why it’s so important that, for this industry and others, we are able to answer the question of how our workforce measures up.”

CareerSource North Central Florida’s data helps answer that question. That data shows that Greater Gainesville attracts many workers with strong skills from surrounding counties that supplement employees from Alachua County. On the other hand, shortages exist in some fields.

As a convener and catalyst, the Chamber is increasing awareness of, and access to, workforce training opportunities in key areas, Godet said. For example, hospitals are experiencing a shortage of surgical techs, which hampers their ability to expand “medical tourism” – travel by patients from outside the area to Greater Gainesville for surgery and other medical procedures because of the cutting-edge skills of the local medical community.

The Chamber plans to help bridge the skills gap in fields such as surgical techs by bringing together stakeholders, just as occurred when Santa Fe College stepped in to help RTI access much-needed biomedical technicians in the company’s early days.

“To respond to the need for biotech talent, Santa Fe College led a collaborative effort with the business community that resulted in the establishment of the Perry Center for Emerging Technologies near Progress Park,” Godet said.

Public Education Presents Opportunities

Alachua County Public Schools offer many programs designed to offer students career pathways in high-demand areas. Godet thinks models from other Florida and U.S. cities may serve as inspiration to increase participation in these workforce-focused education programs available at multiple Alachua County schools.

“We need to illustrate for parents and students the multiple pathways to career success,” Godet said.

A challenge schools face is that fewer people are applying to be teachers.

“The community needs to talk about ways to be creative in expanding the talent pool for teachers,” Godet said.

Opportunities abound to help schools, he said.

“The community demonstrated its commitment to education by passing the half cent sales tax for infrastructure improvements in November,” he said. “I applaud Brian Scarborough’s role in championing the referendum.”

The sales tax campaign grew out of a community-wide initiative that the Chamber spearheaded – the Putting Children First Infrastructure Investment Initiative, or i3. The teamwork of the volunteers for i3 is one of many examples of the strong giving nature of the Greater Gainesville community – both with time and money, Godet said.

“It’s gratifying that we have an incredible community and companies,” he said. “I’m passionate about engaging all the individuals who love the community. I want to help people look beyond their differences and focus on positives that we all agree on.

“This is a year for change, a year when the rubber meets the road. In five years, the Chamber will be 100 years old. When we get to that point, I’m looking forward to reflecting on how this community worked together to transform the meaning of opportunity for all people in the region.” 

Leave a Comment