Photo: Macbeth Photo
Technology in Florida
The High Tech Corridor
A formidable array of higher-ed research, private research institutions and high-tech businesses lines Florida's I-4 corridor.
Twenty years ago, the I-4 High Tech Corridor was chartered as a non-profit entity to promote an emerging aggregation of tech-related business and research activities along a 23-county stretch of mid-Florida. The designation evolved first to “Florida’s High Tech Corridor.” Now, the region is being branded simply as “The Corridor” to reflect its rising national aspirations, in much the same way that Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle in North Carolina are recognized without a geographic identifier.
The evolution reflects growing economic heft: There are now nearly 20,000 tech companies in the Corridor, from an Apple engineering facility to tiny UCF spinoff Garmor in Orlando, which produces single-atom-thick graphene industrial strengtheners, to Tech Data in St. Petersburg, an international reseller of computer and other technology with $28 billion in annual sales — more revenue than McDonald’s — to defense communications powerhouse Harris in Melbourne.
The three major state universities in the Corridor — UF, UCF and USF — last year collectively garnered 239 patents, more than the entire University of Texas system, Rice University and Texas A&M combined, with 226, and the Research Triangle’s Duke University, North Carolina State and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, with 130.
As the region increasingly markets its tech backbone, it still plays the traditional Florida lifestyle card. No tech worker in the Corridor is more than 90 minutes from a beach. “I can tell you, we have no problem getting people to come down here,” says Blair Barbour, who recently moved his Photon-X firm from Huntsville, Ala., to metro Orlando.
An Epicenter for the Corridor
Florida’s High Tech Corridor crosses the state paralleling I-4 from Tampa through Orlando to the Space Coast, comprising about a third of the peninsula. But one 7,000-acre parcel about midway is emerging as an epicenter for the entire Corridor.
Lake Nona, southeast of downtown Orlando, was a quiet slice of rural Orange County dominated by pasture and pine trees some 20 years ago when the I-4 Corridor economic development enterprise was getting started. Today, Lake Nona is a high-tech boomtown.
While the Corridor is home to more than two-thirds of the state’s high-tech jobs and the broadest array of fields from simulation and nanotechnology to aerospace, no single part of the Corridor has been more successful in such a short time as Lake Nona.
In less than a decade, Lake Nona has attracted $2 billion in public and private investments, including the Sanford- Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Nemours Children’s Hospital, the University of Central Florida’s medical school, a UF research facility and others.
The newest arrival is the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Lake Nona, which opened in May. The $665-million facility bristles with the latest technology, and a Veterans Health National Simulation Center for training is going in next door.
Meanwhile, homes are springing up in a New Urbanist-style residential development, Laureate Park, and the area’s population has grown to nearly 10,000. Lake Nona developer Tavistock Development will open the first phase of a town center this year, including offices, boutique shops, hotels and commercial space. The center is projected to grow to 1 million square feet as Lake Nona’s population approaches 30,000 at build-out in the next several decades. “It’s all about the cluster … and collaboration,” says James Zboril, president of Tavistock Development and Lake Nona Property Holdings. “When the units are integrated, the pieces come alive. The really cool thing is when it all comes together and it works.”
Zboril says Lake Nona is excited to be taking a leading role in promoting health, wellness and technology in coordination with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, which oversees the non-profit Corridor initiative of three research institutions — UCF, UF and USF.
Tech giant Cisco selected Lake Nona as the first community in the nation and ninth in the world to be named a Smart+Connected city, a designation and partnership that positions the community as a leader in digital infrastructure and networking technologies for integration of residents, researchers, commerce and industry.
The non-profit Corridor Council, based in Orlando, works to boost the tech industry and spur innovation through partnerships supporting research, marketing, workforce development and entrepreneurship. That all fits with Lake Nona’s collaborative nature, Zboril says, and the community teams up often with the Corridor in promoting the region.
“We have had a lot of success,” Zboril says of Lake Nona. “But the best is yet to come.”
“It’s all about the cluster … and collaboration. When the units are integrated, the pieces come alive. The really cool thing is when it all comes together and it works.” — James Zboril, president, Tavistock Development and Lake Nona Property Holdings
(High-Tech Corridor) Manufacturing
Word’s Out on Osceola
When William A. Martin travels around the country promoting Osceola County, he finds an eager audience among techies, who often have no idea where Osceola County is but have heard about the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center. It’s not even built yet, but word of the $200-million project, which broke ground recently near Kissimmee, has spread rapidly through the high-tech world in universities, economic development groups and private industry.
“This is something I’ve never experienced in all my 40 years of attending trade shows,” Martin says. “It’s already put Osceola County on the map.”
The center, a partnership between Osceola County, the University of Central Florida and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, will combine cutting-edge research and development with actual manufacturing of advanced sensors of all types.
Future generations of autos, planes, trains, homes, offices, machinery and tools will be filled with an array of devices that will function as the eyes and ears of their computerized brains and neural networks. The center will be a base for entrepreneurs to plan, design, manufacture and market smart sensors and related products.
The goal is to generate higherpaying jobs, says Randy Berridge, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council. He compares the Osceola venture to the successful Sematech project, which put Austin, Texas, on the high-tech map decades ago.
John Hitt, president of UCF, which operates a business incubator just 3 miles from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, is lobbying for additional state support to add photonics to the smart-sensor mix so the school can leverage its decades of leadership in that field.
M. J. Soileau, vice president for research and commercialization at UCF, calls the center a unique opportunity for the state to attract “the highest caliber research and development talent to help … meet the needs of high-tech industry in Florida.”
UCF and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council each committed $1 million for administration and marketing, and Osceola County is floating bonds to finance the first phase of construction.
Other Notable Companies
- Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems America: The Lake Mary-based company just north of Orlando manufactures and services a range of sophisticated parts and equipment for turbines, generators and other products. Early this year, the company completed its merger of thermal power generation businesses of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Hitachi Ltd.
- Medical devices cluster, Pinellas/Hillsborough counties: The Florida Medical Manufacturers Consortium, based in Tampa, estimates that medical device companies in Tampa Bay generate $1.2 billion a year. Pinellas County alone contributes a fifth of the state’s medical device revenue as home to 70% of the more than 10,000 medical technology jobs, with the likes of Halkey- Roberts, which designs and manufactures medical valves, clamps, pumps and other specialty products, and Synergy Health, a medical products sterilization company. Tampa-based Moffitt Cancer Center hosted the Business of BioTech 2015 Conference in April.
- Omega Medical Imaging, Sanford: The Sanford company manufactures imaging products for medical procedures such as endoscopy. The $6-million-ayear niche manufacturer won the CEO Nexus Award this year from GrowFL, the state’s second-stage company accelerator. Omega projects $50 million a year in revenue within five years.
- LumaStream, St. Petersburg: The company designs and makes low-voltage LED lighting systems with an artistic flair for commercial, retail, service, hospitality and other customers.
- Iradimed, Winter Springs: Iradimed manufactures and sells advanced intravenous infusion pump systems, with about 2,300 MRI-compatible systems installed worldwide, generating 2014 fiscal year revenue of $15.6 million and an operating profit margin of 19.6%.