Economic leaders are now banking on Tallahassee's 'intellectual talent' to attract jobs.
By Julie S. Bettinger
Regional leaders have been trying for years to create concentrations of skills in industry sectors that would help provide a firmer economic foundation for the region.
Efforts at bolstering manufacturing, biomed and high-tech have met with limited success; economic development officials in the capital region now hope that the area's research facilities -- particularly those associated with state universities -- can become the linchpin they're seeking to attract high-end businesses.
Increasingly, they say, private companies go where they can tap a concentration of brainpower. "In today's environment, intellectual capital is as important in creating jobs as financial capital," says Wayne Harris, vice president of technology and development for the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County.
So far, Florida State University is leading the charge with a new medical school and a contract with the Navy to build an all-electric fleet. Tallahassee-based Weather Predict Inc. has also commercialized professor T.N. Krishnamurti's hurricane-forecasting meteorology research ["Partly Cloudy, Chance of Profits," July 2000].
Harris also points to the recent announcement of a $6-million, 23,000-sq.-ft. biomedical lab for cancer research. It resulted from FSU organic chemist Robert Holton's research on Taxol, an effective anti-cancer drug.
In addition, the FSU Research Foundation is constructing two buildings for research-related activities.
The idea of attracting commercial ventures through research is not new. When the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory was established in 1994, many expected that interest from the nonscientific communities would soon follow. Though there have been no commercial spinoffs or businesses relocating as a result of the lab, Raymond E. Bye Jr., vice president for research, says that's to be expected.
"It took the Research Triangle Park (in North Carolina) 25 years to get noticed," he says. "And people don't recognize it takes a very long time to get a critical mass of expertise before the ideas can come into fruition."
The region is very close, Bye says. "Once you get that critical mass, that's a tremendous increase in intellectual talent that companies can't ignore."
In the News
Apalachicola -- Federal officials rejected Gov. Jeb Bush's request for a disaster declaration to help Apalachicola Bay oystermen, saying damage was not severe enough. The bay was closed late last year to oyster harvesting because of red tide, which put 1,036 oystermen out of work. Bush says he plans to appeal.
Crestview -- The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County was successful in getting an Enterprise Zone in and around the Crestview Industrial Airpark. EDC officials say the designation will boost negotiation efforts under way with aviation-related companies.
Aerospace Integration Corp. broke ground on its new hangar facility at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview. The 76,000-sq.-ft. facility is scheduled to open next February, and the company plans to hire an additional 75 people to staff it. AIC's principal business is modifying and upgrading Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft based at Hurlburt Field.
Fort Walton Beach -- The 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base awarded Tybrin Corp. a $12-million, five-year contract. Tybrin will perform program evaluation, testing and simulation of the Eastern Range Space Lift Range System, the software and hardware required to perform the Space Wing launch mission.
A state-funded JobsPlus One-Stop Career Center has opened a facility in Fort Walton Beach, consolidating services previously offered in two other locations. Overseen by the Workforce Development Board, JobsPlus will provide employment and training services once offered through the Employer Services Center and Department of Children and Families Services Center. Employers will be able to access labor market information, post openings and screen prospective employees through the new center.
Lanark Village -- Artifacts left in Franklin County after the end of World War II are causing quite a stir as development moves in. Practice mines and unexploded mortar and bazooka rounds may pose a safety risk, according to consultants to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Once known as Camp Gordon Johnston, the property off U.S. 98 includes 159,348 acres. Consultants estimate a more extensive evaluation will cost $3.6 million.
Madison -- After searching for nearly a year, Madison County commissioners have hired an economic development director. Keith Mixon will work directly for the Madison County Development Council, a non-profit organization designated by the board to oversee economic development activities in the county.
Commissioners have also submitted an application for an Enterprise Zone to create tax breaks for new and existing businesses.
Madison County -- A 150-acre recreational complex is under construction in Madison County. The first of its kind in the area, it will house eight baseball/softball fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, nature trails, basketball courts and soccer fields. The project, funded by the county, is expected to be complete in summer 2002.
St. Teresa Beach -- St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) is trying to get Franklin County's growth policies changed to accommodate a new marina that would serve St. Joe's SummerCamp development in eastern Franklin County. Locals are concerned that pollution from the marina could harm seagrasses along the coast and clam farming that the state plans to start near Alligator Harbor. County commissioners are reviewing the proposal.
Baptist Health Care
PENSACOLA -- Baptist Health Care was ranked 10th in Fortune magazine's 100 "Best Companies to Work For." The largest non-governmental employer in northwest Florida, Pensacola-based Baptist Health Care has nearly 5,500 employees in its network of hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities. The ranking is based on employee responses and surveys measuring the quality of workplace culture.