Around the State- Southwest/ Tampa Bay- March 2000
Federal funding for cutting-edge research puts USF's Bayboro campus on the map.
by Stacie Kress Booker
When Peter Betzer joined the University of South Florida's department of marine science in 1971, it was a fledgling program with 10 professors and 45 grad students. Today, he chairs a dynamic department and academic hub at the St. Petersburg/Bayboro campus with more than double the number of faculty and students.
Now, it is also in the high-tech limelight, having secured $6.5 million in federal funding for research and development of micro-electromechanical systems or MEMS, which can produce devices the size of a grain of sand that fit on the surface of a microchip. Applications range from industrial to medical. According to industry projections, the national market for MEMS devices will triple by 2002, to upwards of $5 billion.
The MEMS research at USF could provide critical support to the heavy concentration of medical equipment and biomedical firms in the region, and it's a technology that companies along the I-4 high-tech corridor will need to remain competitive.
It's not a done deal, however. USF needs additional funding from the state and Pinellas County. USF also needs a new R&D facility. One is slated for the Pinellas County Science Technology and Research (STAR) Center, but the converted defense-industry plant is fully occupied. STAR officials are scrambling to accommodate USF or help find funding for a new space.
The MEMS facility could be up and running within a year. Initial focus will be on devices for ocean sensors and medical diagnostic instruments for premature babies, but USF faces a lengthy development period between concept and getting a product to market.
This is not USF's first exposure to MEMS. Lucent Technologies has been working closely with USF's engineering department, backing MEMS research for the telecommunications industry and helping USF build the infrastructure to draw high-tech businesses.While the STAR Center facility will be spearheaded by marine science, other departments, especially engineering and the medical school, will collaborate.
STAR Center occupant Constellation Technology eagerly awaits the facility and expects to collaborate, too. Another local company, Dunedin-based Ocean Optics, already has close ties to USF's Bayboro campus. A spinoff from research begun in the marine science department, the $10-million company developed the first miniature fiber optic spectrometer used for optical sensing and sees its own growth riding on MEMS research.
While the federal grant money is a coup for the region, Florida is still playing catch-up. Research facilities at other U.S. universities have substantially more funding for MEMS research. Ohio State has $30 million earmarked; the University of Michigan $130 million. High local hopes need to be tempered with patience, says Betzer. "With science, you know you're going to make progress," he says. "You just don't know when that's going to be."
In the News
Lee County -- LaBelle-based agribusiness Alico Inc. continues to sell off its land surrounding Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) for commercial development. The latest transaction: 2,500 acres sold to Naples-based developer Naples/Dallas Venture Inc. for $50 million. Plans for the property include an upscale residential community, two golf courses, an equestrian facility and a working farm that would be available to FGCU for educational programs.
Manatee -- Bradenton-based Bruce Williams Homes plans to start construction on three new residential neighborhoods in north Manatee County this year: two at Lakewood Ranch and one at nearby Greenfield Plantation. The homebuilder says 15% to 20% of its new homebuyers are from neighboring Pinellas County.
Naples -- Bids fell short of the asking price at a public auction for undeveloped land at the upscale Twin Eagles development. Stalled by a lawsuit filed by local environmental groups and in the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, Twin Eagles received bids one-half to a third of the $4-million to $9-million price tag it set for three parcels totaling 1,000 acres. A federal bankruptcy judge will determine how to proceed with the sale.
Checkpoint Ltd., a full-service security and monitoring firm, bought four more Florida security firms, giving it 3,174 more accounts. Area acquisitions include Gulf Coast Security & Sound in Oldsmar and Alarm-Trac Security Systems in Palm Harbor. Checkpoint has made 40 acquisitions in the past four years.
Oldsmar -- Managed care giant UnitedHealth Group Inc. will consolidate four Tampa Bay area Uniprise division operations at a planned $3.8-million, 100,000-sq.-ft. facility. The Hartford, Conn.-based division does claims processing and case management. The move will create 400 to 600 new jobs, making United the largest employer in Oldsmar.
Sarasota -- FCCI Insurance Group will cut 7% of its workforce statewide -- about 40 jobs -- by eliminating unprofitable divisions and outsourcing some jobs as part of a company-wide cost-reduction effort. FCCI, the state's largest workers' compensation company, began construction last summer of a new headquarters at Lakewood Ranch that could accommodate 1,400 workers. The company currently employs 600.
Arthur Andersen's new Technology Park is up and running. The global professional services firm officially opened the facility in December and now has 815 employees in Sarasota, where it develops software for tax professionals, creates and maintains the global technology used by the firm, and licenses and distributes the firm's software products.
Architectural firm Cardinal, Carlson Parks Inc. is teaming up with Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyrbek & Co. (DPZ) to rewrite Sarasota's downtown master plan. DPZ has created new city master plans for Naples and West Palm Beach. DPZ's principals, Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyrbek, are recognized as the founders of New Urbanism.
St. Petersburg -- Stamford, Conn.-based real estate company Equis Financial Group is buying Florida Progress Corp.'s 3-year-old real estate spinoff, Echelon International Corp. The price tag on the deal, $231 million. That includes Echelon's real estate holdings, such as the Carillon office park and the NationsBank Tower in downtown St. Pete. Equis plans to keep the Echelon name, its 160 employees, and will continue Echelon's plans to develop a movie/retail/restaurant complex at Carillon.
Associations representing small to medium-size local businesses formed an alliance to ensure members have the same clout as larger companies. The 15-member Council of Business Associations (COBA) wants the city to increase personnel in the construction and permitting office, to streamline procedures and to provide smaller businesses with more resources to help guide them through the paperwork for a permit.
Polk County Sports Marketing, a division of the Central Florida Development Council, has formed the Florida Grapefruit League Association to promote and strengthen the state's multimillion dollar spring training industry. The association, comprised of representatives from 19 public and private sports venues in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Sarasota and Manatee counties that host major league baseball spring training, estimates the impact of the 20 teams that currently train here to be $340 million.