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Business incubator effect in Central Florida

Launched nearly 15 years ago, the UCF Business Incubation Program is a network of economic development partnerships between private enterprise and local governments in Orlando, Sanford, Winter Springs, Kissimmee, St. Cloud, Apopka and Daytona Beach. Offices in each of the cities provide space for startups and entrepreneurs who are vetted for their potential to generate strong job growth. Business specialists, veteran executives and on-site managers act as advisers and advocates.

According to the university, the program has generated a return of $6.16 for every $1 of public investment and was directly responsible for 1,856 central Florida jobs paying an average of $58,075 at the end of a 20-month study in 2013.

The numbers:

At the beginning of the study, Oct. 1, 2011, there were 118 firms operating from UCF incubator sites. By the end of the study, on June 30, 2013, the number had grown to 143. Direct employment rose from 503 to 835 during the period, a 66% increase.

After a fledgling company is making enough money to have a decent chance of surviving, it leaves the incubator to compete on its own. At the start of the study, there were 66 such firms doing business in the region, employing 1,100. At the end, there were 110 graduate firms employing 1,540, mostly in high-tech.

Not every firm grew — 24 of the graduate companies had a combined loss of 82 jobs during the study. But the net job growth for current and former incubator clients was impressive coming as it did "during one of the most challenging economic environments in U. S. history," says William H. Owen, a veteran business consultant in Orlando.

Owen, who reviewed the study overseen by Vernet Lasrado, UCF's assistant director of research, had analyzed the program in previous years using a slightly different impact model. The program, Owen says, is "clearly a jobcreating machine of a high order."

NASCAR hired longtime auto industry executive Brent Dewar to fll the newly created position of COO. Chief Marketing Offcer Steve Phelps and Senior Vice President of Racing Steve O'Donnell were both promoted to executive vice president. Also, general counsel Gary Crotty was promoted to chief legal offcer/general counsel. » Todd Chase was hired as CFO of the Tijuana Flats chain, which is based in Orlando. » Al Minner was hired as city manager of Leesburg in Lake County after serving for eight years as the top administrator at Sebastian in Indian River County. Minner replaces Jay Evans, who took a job with a city in Tennessee. » Longtime Rollins College physics professor Thomas Moore was named 2013 Florida Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

CLERMONT —

South Lake Hospital is building a skilled nursing unit focusing on orthopedic rehabilitation, a 30-bed short-term rehabilitation facility that will employ 45 to 50 people. It's expected to open in the summer.

DELTONA —

The St. Johns River Water Management District and city of Deltona will share the $1.8 million cost to construct a 1-million gallon ground storage tank and pumping station for reclaimed wastewater. Construction is expected to take about a year.

KISSIMMEE —

Work is under way on Westgate Resorts' 80-unit, eight-story timeshare project Westgate Town Center. » The Arabian Nights equine dinner show has closed after 25 years. Owner Mark Miller says the attraction could no longer fnancially support the quality of show that he wanted. Construction has begun on an 80-bed expansion for Florida Hospital Kissimmee. The $70-million tower will be a twin to the existing facility but also include cardiology and other labs, with completion in early 2015.

LAKE NONA —

Epoch Properties is developing a 302-unit apartment complex on 13 acres at Narcoossee and Dowden roads, a site Epoch acquired for about $5.5 million. » Tavistock Group and Florida Blue plan to begin work this year on the Florida Blue Innovation Center at Lake Nona Medical City, a 92,000 sq.-ft., three-story building with wet labs and offce space. » The Lynx public bus system will start a number of new routes in April to serve Lake Nona and its growing number of science and medical facilities such as the VA Medical Center and Nemours Children's Hospital. The routes, including service to downtown Orlando, are estimated to cost $3.4 million for the frst two years of operation. Lake Nona is a 7,000-acre master planned community in Orlando.

ORANGE COUNTY —

The county will get six soccer felds for public use with fnancial support from Orlando City Soccer Club, which is bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Orlando. The city and county backed plans for an $84-million pro soccer stadium. As part of the agreement, the private club agreed to pay $200,000 a year for 15 years to help operate six public felds in the county. All of the felds will be open by 2016 and accommodate football and lacrosse as well as soccer.

ORLANDO —

Hotelier Richard Kessler's latest addition to his collection, the Castle Hotel on International Drive, debuted after a $6-million renovation with a Bavarianstyle theme, expanded amenities and extensive artwork. » The recently organized Greater Orlando Economic Development Group, formed to promote international investment outreach, has scheduled a matchmaking and educational forum for Brazilian investors, for April 28-May 2 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. The Orlando area ranked ninth among the nation's 100 largest metro areas for projected growth in gross metro product for 2014, according to a study by the U. S. Conference of Mayors. The 5.3% growth rate, tops in Florida, would put the Orlando economy at $115.6 billion. » Rouge, a lower-cost subsidiary of Air Canada, began servicing the airline's Toronto to Orlando International Airport route in December and this month takes over the carrier's Montreal-Orlando route. Work is under way on Crescent Central Station, a midrise project on Orange Avenue downtown adjacent to a planned SunRail commuter train station. The $39-million project by Crescent Communities will have 279 apartments. Later phases will include hotel and offce space.

ST. CLOUD —

Meritage Homes opened Nova Grove with 89 home sites. St. Cloud-based Starling Automotive is starting work on a 50,000-sq.-ft. building in south Orlando to replace its Starling Chevrolet dealership in Kissimmee.

WEST MELBOURNE —

Home builder DR Horton has begun work on Sawgrass Lakes, a 508-acre development off Minton Road. In addition to nearly 1,000 homes, the project will include an elementary school. The frst homes are expected to be completed this summer.

Edgefactory employees flm Keith Bisogno (leaning) and Frank Hoefer (white shirt) of Thermo Fisher Scientifc at the PITTCON science conference in Orlando.

PROFILE

Vestagen Technical Textiles

An Orlando company that makes bacteria-resistant fabric for scrubs, lab coats and isolation gowns is growing as venture capitalists nationwide take notice. Vestagen Technical Textiles attracted more than $7 million in venture financing from companies from Tampa to California in December, bringing its 2013 venture capital to $15.5 million. Vestagen will use the money to expand and promote its Vestex fabric for athletic and other uses in addition to health care. The fabric is designed to repel fluids and microbes while remaining comfortable by wicking away moisture.

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