FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Spotlighting Jacksonville

(Mark Wemple)

Jacksonville is a great place to visit — and also a great city in which to live, build a career and raise a family. It's a city on the move.

The excitement is palpable. From the Shipyards and "Healthy Town" to coffee shops and craft breweries, residents are pumped about all the investment in their growing city.


Jacksonville is a great location for corporate headquarters, major regional offices and manufacturing. The military is a big part of the city's bedrock. Health care providers draw from a wide swath of Florida and Georgia and places abroad. Transportation provides another anchor. There's plenty to like about the place.

Jacksonville enjoys a stable business base that doesn't depend on one sector for its success. I will be back visiting that wonderful city just when this issue appears with the special 50-page portrait section (click here, or read it on page 46 of the magazine).

Florida is blessed to have strong colleges and universities, and I have been blessed to know many of their leaders.

In this month's special report on higher education, Florida Trend offers biographies on many of the new presidents leading our institutions of higher education.

As the head of FSU, John Thrasher brings intimate knowledge of state government, along with a lifelong love for his alma mater. Just a week into Thrasher's tenure, a gunman opened fire at the university library. Thrasher won praise for his calm demeanor, returning FSU to normalcy in short order.

Florida Atlantic faced excessive turnover in the executive suite matched by subpar performance. John Kelly came to FAU from Clemson and immediately started turning things around. He increased academic requirements, partnered with highly respected institutions and improved the graduation rate. He has only started.

The University of Florida brought in Cornell's provost, who is highly regarded as an electrical engineer, to make UF a top 10 public university. I met President Kent Fuchs on April 1, the same day he announced that he was job swapping with the football coach in order to get a salary boost and a better parking spot. He pulled off the joke with great aplomb, even appearing at a football press conference as the new coach. He brings warmth to a serious academic office.

These higher ed leaders face huge challenges. The biggest must be funding. It's exceedingly difficult to operate in a state that's both low tax and low tuition.

Private colleges have more opportunity to adjust their revenue streams. Even modest increases in tuition, fees and other charges add up to millions of dollars.

Overall, I'm encouraged. When I visited FIU President Mark Rosenberg recently, there was a sense of vibrancy as students whizzed by on skateboards. Originally I thought the idea of Florida Poly in Lakeland was pure folly, but now I see the success and potential.

At USF in Tampa Bay and UCF in Orlando, we witness great universities furthering their clout as economic engines by building downtown campuses. UCF President John Hitt visited Phoenix twice to review the success of Arizona State University's campus downtown; he will partner with the city of Orlando to build a campus in the city's business core.

USF President Judy Genshaft is taking the medical school downtown, where it will be a short hop from Tampa General Hospital, making core teaching and clinical studies convenient for professors, students and patients. There's great potential for add-on drug companies, medical manufacturing, biotech and conferences.

Fitness update: Not much on the weight-loss front, but I've been jogging a fair amount and occasionally run a 9:30 mile.

— Andy Corty

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