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June 21, 2018

Technology: Creative Approach- Northwest- June 2003

Joan Hughes | 6/1/2003
In 1997, Ken Ford, director of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, left Pensacola for an 18-month stint in Silicon Valley. The vibrant intellectual life he found there excited him -- "there were people and ideas colliding all the time."

Ford's experience in California convinced him that creative talent was "the only infrastructure that really matters" for tech research and business.

But Ford also found that the tech hotbed lacked a sense of community and history. "These people were not happy, and it's because Silicon Valley looks like a giant strip mall," Ford says. To recruit and keep creative talent, he realized, would involve rethinking old strategies.

"Corporations tried to attract my generation by building campuses with cafeterias, dry cleaners, day care -- whatever we needed to live. That's the old Silicon Valley model. The younger generation, to them it's a nightmare version of the company store," Ford says.

Ford is now trying to take advantage of Pensacola's attributes to create a new model for a tech center around the IHMC, a research institute that Ford and the University of West Florida set up in 1990 to focus on "human-centered computing" -- a branch of artificial intelligence designed to create machines that help humans think and work better.

Ford and other leaders, including UWF President John Cavanaugh, say the model depends on creating what they call a "Habitat for Innovation" that exploits the relationship between workplace and neighborhood. Research indicates that the intelligent, creative people Ford wants to attract like to live and work in "walkable" neighborhoods -- similar to the so-called New Urbanist concept -- where the arts flourish in a historical setting. That "creative class'' wants the community, not the company, to provide day care, dining and other service options.

Pensacola's historic Seville District, where Ford says IHMC is an "anchor tenant," is already on its way to becoming a premier Habitat for Innovation. Recent surveys by economic development researcher Richard Florida show western Florida as one of the top three Florida locations for an emerging creative class, comparable to Gainesville and the Space Coast.

Housed primarily in a former jail, the IHMC will expand into adjacent parking and empty lots to create a city block that will incorporate courtyards and parking, a community meeting hall and space for restaurants, coffee shops and other commercial enterprises.

The expansion, which is set to begin at year's end, will raise IHMC's profile in the city substantially. "The institute provides very high-paying jobs -- the average salary is in the high $80s to low $90s -- and we'll be bringing in 85 to 100 new people. It's going to really help the economic development of Pensacola," says Cavanaugh.


Bay County -- The first residents of Wild Heron, a 734-acre, 600-home Intrawest development on Lake Powell, Florida's largest coastal dune lake, will move in this summer. The Greg Norman-designed golf course, granted the Audubon Society's "Silver Signature Sanctuary" status, has been open since March 2002. Buildout is expected by 2005.

The Bay County Commission has approved a 181-acre, 360-home St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) development on Lake Powell, and Walton County is reviewing the company's WaterSound development on the other side of the lake.

Bonifay -- Construction is scheduled to begin late this year on a new Doctor's Memorial Hospital, accompanying a changing focus from inpatient to outpatient services.

Escambia -- Tired of federal foot-dragging on the Escambia Treating Co. Superfund site, the county will foot the bill for the demolition of 50 of 150 nearby homes vacant since the relocation of families in 2001.

Leon County -- Under the leadership of the independent, nonprofit Tall Timbers Research Station, 60,000 acres of land worth $150 million in northwest Florida and southern Georgia have been placed in conservation easements since 1992. A majority of landowners have been executives eager to protect the Red Hills region, a popular hunting area, from north-creeping urban sprawl. With new federal increases of easement incentives, TTRS hopes to protect 200,000 acres by decade's end.

Niceville -- Okaloosa-Walton Community College has won state approval to offer bachelor's degree programs in management and, with the University of West Florida, in nursing. OWCC will be the fourth community college out of 28 in Florida to offer four-year degrees.

Okaloosa County -- In collaboration with the University of Florida and the University of West Florida, the school board will open the state's first secondary pre-engineering school this fall with classes offered in one middle school and one high school.

Okaloosa Island -- The county has approved Destin West Bayside, a seven-acre, 186-unit condominium and retail development on the island's largest undeveloped parcel.

Panhandle -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued critical habitat designations for the gulf sturgeon, which affects several Panhandle waterways, including the Yellow River, where a controversial dam project is under review.

Three of the region's four major airports -- Pensacola Regional, Okaloosa Regional and Bay County International -- have added or expanded service to major cities in the first five months of 2003.

Pensacola Beach -- The Santa Rosa Island Authority approved a highly controversial plan to widen the main beach road to four lanes. Opponents fear the project will destroy the beach's "old Florida" feel.

Santa Rosa County -- Drawn by high-performing county schools, where FCAT "A's" are the norm, professors from Harvard University and Northeastern University are trying to determine what has made the district academically successful.

Tallahassee -- Tallahassee Community Hospital's $100-million, 314,000-sq.-ft. replacement hospital is set to open in August.

Taxolog Inc. of Fairfield, N.J., has opened a biomedical research laboratory and office building with an initial staff of 10 scientists and technicians, with plans to eventually expand to up to 25. The company's cancer drug Taxol was developed by Florida State University professor Robert Holton.

BCOM Inc. of Miami has purchased the southwest parcel of Kleman Plaza with plans to build a 300,000-sq.-ft. mixed-use development of luxury apartments, office and retail space.

Tags: Northwest

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