by Jeff Zbar
Updated 5 yearss ago
Miami-Fort Lauderdale ranked number one on the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. But it’s the next levels of business growth that tell the true tale of entrepreneurship in Greater Fort Lauderdale. From technology and life sciences to manufacturing, Broward County is an innovation hotbed.
Companies in these sectors that choose to expand or relocate here may be eligible for a variety of grants, tax credits and other incentives to support or offset R&D expenses, equipment purchases, qualified job creation, workforce training and capital investment.
Tech Magic Leaps Across the County
Some say technology in Greater Fort Lauderdale began about the time device maker Motorola arrived in Plantation. Soon thereafter, secure application delivery firm Citrix was founded in Fort Lauderdale by a former IBM executive who worked on the birth of the personal computer nearby in Boca Raton. Device maker Blackberry still has offices in the same location Motorola opened — a campus that recently enjoyed a $35-million makeover, bringing restaurants, a Starbucks, tech firm Magic Leap and renewed vigor to West Broward County’s tech sector.
Click by click, tech has transformed Greater Fort Lauderdale.
Startups still find a place to thrive. Coral Springs mobile aviation solutions provider Hilton Software — launched on a whim by commercial pilot Hilton Goldstein — last year landed a $17-million contract with the United States Department of Defense. In February, electronic components maker KEMET Corp. announced it would relocate its reported $758 million in 2017 net sales and 150 headquarters employees from Greenville, S. Car., to downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Cloud-based human capital management firm Ultimate Software boasted $940 million in 2017 revenues and the No. 3 spot on Fortune magazine’s 2018 list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and top spots on its Best Workplace lists for millennials, technology, Hispanics and Latinos, women and African Americans.
The tech sector certainly grabbed the headlines over the past year. Plantation-based augmented reality firm Magic Leap landed $461 million in capital from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign investment arm, bringing its funding to date to $2.3 billion.
In 2017, local startup online pet supplies retailer Chewy was acquired by PetSmart for a reported $3.35 billion in cash. Earlier this year, Plantation-based construction software company e-Builder was snatched up for $500 million in cash by Silicon Valley company Trimble. Little surprise Fort Lauderdale ranks among Top 50 U.S. markets for technology talent, noted CBRE.
What these firms all discover is a destination with a rich talent base and a growing cluster of technology and innovation-fueled companies.
“There’s a very strong pool of tech talent and providers here. With more tech companies, the ecosystem keeps growing,” says e-Builder CEO Ron Antevy, 50, noting his sale made millionaires of numerous long-time employees. “Like other home-grown companies, we’re entrepreneurs at heart. We battle it every day and want to win, and that contributes to the success.”
Building a Better Product for a Global Marketplace
Manufacturing in the sunshine is big business. Regionwide, the sector boasts 2,500 employers and 6,000 supporting companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in combined capital investment since 2016, says Matthew Rocco with the South Florida Manufacturers Association. These include companies ranging from tech to health care to construction and the county’s thriving aviation category.
When Fort Lauderdale-based marine, outdoor, aviation and military survival gear manufacturer ACR Electronics was named the 2018 South Florida Manufacturer of the Year, it was more than a singular win.
The company — which bested almost 80 entrants — exemplified top-tier companies that manufacture goods in Greater Fort Lauderdale for distribution to the nation and the world. Products include aviation, building supplies, clothing, computer and electronic components, medical devices and equipment, mobile devices, pharmaceuticals and software applications.
Top manufacturers include Bosch, Cayago AG, Florida Supplement, Great Healthworks, HEICO, JL Audio, Motorola, Point Blank Enterprises, Propulsion Technologies, SIMTEC Silicone Parts and Stryker, among others.
“It was a great reminder to know we are one of many companies who can say their products are ‘Made in Florida by Floridians’,”company President Gerry Angeli said in a statement.
Business Grows in the Life Science Ecosystem
Greater Fort Lauderdale is an ideal ecosystem for life and bio sciences. From employers to educators to the workforce that flows to one from the other, life sciences thrive amid a robust life cycle.
With some 13,000 life-science workers across the region, South Florida is an essential component within Florida’s larger life science sector. The state ranks second in FDA-registered medical device manufacturing facilities and third in the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industry.
In Greater Fort Lauderdale, life science enjoys a steady stream of capable talent flowing from such research and academic institutions as Nova Southeastern University, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Miami and Florida International University. Along with area colleges and trade schools, students can achieve certificates or degrees — from undergraduate to master’s to doctorates — providing a workforce ranging from lab technicians to researchers to world-class scientists.
Helping scientists perform their research, Nova Southeastern University’s $100 million Center for Collaborative Research (CCR) is one of the largest and most advanced research facilities in Florida. To the north, the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University is home to 19 high-tech companies, and its technology business incubator houses more than a dozen startups.
Among the county’s leading life science employers are: pharmaceutical, medical device, testing and drug deliver makers Allergan, Aveva Drug Delivery Systems, Goodwin Biotechnology, Hema Diagnostic Systems, ImmunoSite Technologies, Lupin Pharmaceuticals, MAKO Surgical, OmniComm Systems, OrbusNeich, Terumo Aortic (formerly Bolton Medical), Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Trividia Health, U.S. Stem Cell and SHL Pharma, which recently expanded its manufacturing and R&D facility in Deerfield Beach.
Linking educators to employers to the global market, the Life Sciences South Florida consortium of universities, colleges, economic development agencies, research institutes and companies drives innovation, research, entrepreneurship, venture capital and life sciences companies.