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Hot Topic: Greater Gainesville is on the Rise

Written By: Erica Brown

The Council for Economic Outreach is “ready to execute” on the goals it set for 2015. January 1 marked the commencement of the new five-year economic development strategy, “Transforming Greater Gainesville.” As I said many times over the past year, the new goals are bold, strategic and intended to create a sustainable economic development effort that puts this region in a new playing field — where we belong. If 2014 is any indication, we’re right on track.

The 2014 accomplishments, in my opinion, set the stage for this new direction. As we began a “slow launch” into the new strategy, the accomplishments speak for themselves. A few notable ones include the following:

1. CEO closed regional deals creating 292 new regional jobs and $256 million in new capital investment;
2. The CEO Project Portfolio increased from 36 projects in January to 70 by the end of November;
3. The Advanced Manufacturing Council executed quarterly membership meetings throughout 2014 and has doubled its board membership for 2015 to include participation from 12 of the region’s most prestigious and innovative manufacturers;
4. The Gainesville Tech Council executed two “hobnob” events and two general membership meetings while also debuting the “Florida Angel Nexus” to regional tech entrepreneurs and companies;
5. The Regional Partners of Alachua County have organized and are meeting monthly to coordinate a new, regional approach to economic development activities;
6. CEO organized and executed three out-of-region marketing delegations led by Mayor Ed Braddy with strong participation from the University of Florida and Santa Fe College along with regional business leadership. In total, 56 out-of-region corporate, organizational and investor meetings were undertaken in Washington D.C., Chicago and the greater New York region.

That’s where we’ve been, and here’s where we are heading. The new strategy has five-year metrics to include the following (remember we set BOLD metrics for a strong region that houses assets that can back them up. Yes, that’s us.):

1. Close 50 new projects in one of five target sectors, including advanced materials, agricultural life sciences, human life sciences, advanced logistics and software/ IT for a total of 3,500 new primary jobs, $250 million in new capital investment and $218 million in new primary salaries;
2. Complete $1 billion in gamechanging regional investment projects and major infrastructure development (Yes, that a “b” for billion.).

How do we get there? We market the great assets and opportunities in this business and educational hub to industries throughout Florida, the United States and the global community. Second, we enhance our efforts at traditional business recruitment, retention and expansion and start-up activity. Finally, we continue our organizational and public-sector collaborations to develop and maintain a strong, regional workforce, create a business friendly and affordable ecosystem and work regionally on all levels.

What should you watch for this year? Watch for all of the above. But, watch closely for some of the newer opportunities not previously discussed. The advanced manufacturing, human life sciences and software/IT sectors are continuing on their growing paths, but how familiar are you with the opportunities surrounding agricultural life sciences? Do you know what we really mean by “ag life sciences”? Thanks to the opportunities afforded this region by Plum Creek and several of the key new developments being undertaken, we have the opportunity to create a game-changing mecca in this sector for Alachua County, the State of Florida and the world. Agricultural life sciences and the type of opportunity the sector affords our region can best be exemplified by one of the cutting-edge research projects at the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida, one of the world’s leading agricultural research centers. The UF center, which takes in the largest amount of agriculture science research funding in the United States each year (approximately $140 million per year), and the talent it houses (yes, right here in Gainesville) are changing the world through every aspect of food supply and nutrition, positively benefiting the status of world health. Dr. Kevin Folta, dubbed the Dr. Doolittle of the plant kingdom in a recent article in “Explore,” is researching and garnering impressive results in using different light spectrums to increase the nutritional content of foods. (In addition to the game-changing opportunities to the entire food producing cycle, this is garnering the attention of appliance companies — think the refrigerator of the future). Other research areas of prominence encompass the taste of foods, food safety and a multitude of other related areas. The implications are staggering and, along with Plum Creek’s development, a whole new research campus is being visualized for East Gainesville.

All in all, the future is bright (no pun intended), and the opportunities for 2015 are great. We have much work to do, but we’re not afraid of hard work. Your Council for Economic Outreach is busy working on all these initiatives — come join us!

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