The Florida High Tech Corridor connects counties, including Lake and Sumter, to resources to maximize their technological development.
Lake and Sumter counties are trying to stake their claim in the still-evolving economy of technology, as a giant network guides a large swath of the state toward growth in the industry.
The Florida High Tech Corridor spans 23 counties banding together in an economic development initiative to market their high-tech assets. The corridor is connected by three research universities—Central Florida, South Florida, and Florida—more than 25 economic development organizations, 14 state/community colleges, 12 regional workforce boards, and numerous industry groups.
The mission is to increase the region’s high-tech presence through partnerships that support the workforce, entrepreneurship, marketing, and research between the universities and industry partners.
The Corridor travels along interstates 4 and 75, so Lake and Sumter are natural partners in the initiative.
“As the state of Florida tries to diversify its economy from hospitality and tourism, it’s certainly more important that we put technology at the forefront,” says Robert Chandler, Lake’s economic growth director.
As the Corridor Council—an advisory board of university presidents and company executives—moves its tech agenda forward, Lake County will benefit now and in the future, he says.
For example, the Corridor, UCF and other partners established the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, which opened in April in Osceola County. Leesburg-based ESI, or Electric Services Inc., received the electrical contract for the 109,654-square-foot building. ESI employees put in 40,000 man hours to install power lighting and other electrical work, company President Steven Strong says.
The Corridor also collaborated with partners to create and help fund BRIDG, or Bridging the Innovation Development Gap, the world’s first smart-sensor consortium, and manages the research center.
The facility will develop advanced technologies in smart sensors and other areas, potentially creating thousands of high-paying jobs with salaries averaging about $78,600, according to its website.
The project positions Florida as a global leader in smart-sensor manufacturing, says Ed Schons, president of the Corridor Council and director of economic development at UCF.
“BRIDG provides Florida with an unmatched global competitive advantage for advanced manufacturing, which is expected to accelerate the development of the state’s high-tech asset base, generating tens of thousands of new high-wage jobs and expanded state and local tax revenues,” Ed says.
Benefits will be felt locally as well, he says.
“We expect BRIDG to fuel growth throughout our region by attracting a broad set of supply chain companies, which will generate economic impact,” Ed says.
While Lake is not yet considered a technology hub, Robert says county staff is exploring how to attract more tech companies, as well as how to train students and the workforce for high-tech jobs.
Technology also forms the basis for many businesses throughout the county. In Lake County offices, the focus is on attracting manufacturing companies because of the skill sets of the existing workforce and the availability of industrial land, says Erika Greene, economic development coordinator.
“Going forward, we will be targeting tech companies that provide support and services relevant to the existing manufacturing companies’ needs,” she says, “therefore creating an ecosystem that supports a healthy supply-demand chain.”
Partner counties can benefit from being under the Corridor umbrella, says Jada Glover, economic development coordinator for Sumter County. Counties contribute funding to the Corridor initiative and participate in regional activities related to the three research universities, while business owners gain access to more resources, she adds.
“The association [with the Corridor] draws attention to Sumter County, and is beneficial for existing businesses and new businesses looking to relocate to Sumter,” Jada says.
Agromillora, an agriculture technology company based in Spain, chose Sumter when looking to expand to an inland location in Florida. The company, which propagates citrus rootstocks, broke ground in 2015 on its 34,000-square-foot citrus nursery and started production in early 2016. The facility includes a tissue culture laboratory, greenhouses, and a small workforce of local employees trained for the jobs, according to its website.
Sumter’s economic development office helped Agromillora find property in Wildwood near commercial citrus production and highway transportation. The county also guided the company through the permitting process and introduced it to Brite Leaf, a containerized citrus nursery in Lake Panasoffkee, Jada says.
“It was a pro-business environment, and they were grateful for that,” she says.
For new businesses, the Florida High Tech Corridor supports several programs, including the Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center, an online directory at flvec.com. The website helps entrepreneurs from the Corridor’s 23 counties find resources during each stage of their business, including access to a database of local and statewide information about licenses, business mentoring and coaching, networking, and venture capital.
FLVEC also promotes entrepreneurs by publishing profile articles about them online, complete with links to their website and social media accounts. Companies also have many options for promotion in the media.
Lake County is pleased to have a partnership with FLVEC, says Adam Sumner, Lake’s economic development and tourism manager.
“One of the benefits of this partnership is the opportunity for Lake County companies to connect with myriad agencies available to help their company based on their business stage,” Adam says. “In addition to being able to create their profile, they are able to connect with other Florida-based entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneur Stan Van Meter’s profile was posted recently on flvec.com. He’s the owner of United Efficiency, a mobile software app company, and its subsidiary, FleetMode, which he started in 2008 in Mount Dora. FleetMode is an enterprise solution to stop distracted driving by using a phone app, a windshield sticker, and a management portal to disable some phone functions when a vehicle is moving.
Stan acknowledges that starting a software business was challenging because the Mount Dora area is not rife with technology companies. Once he brought people onboard, however, everything worked out. He has 20 employees overall.
“Mount Dora is a burgeoning, young, vibrant community,” Stan says. “Once they get here, everybody loves it.”
Doug Smiley, owner of Tangent Media digital design, relocated the business to Wildwood from St. Petersburg about six years ago. His profile also is on flvec.com as a potential resource for small-business startups.
“I think it’s a great mission. It’s a valuable resource for small businesses,” he says. “It’s attracting a lot of businesses, which is growing our market by leaps and bounds,” he says.
The Virtual Entrepreneur Center is just a small part of the Florida High Tech Corridor’s mission, but companies big and small are reaping benefits from the Corridor today—with more expected down the road. Any potential high-profile projects, however, are “highly confidential,” says Ed, the Corridor Council president.
“We’re always working with partners to identify opportunities to position our region and Florida as a global competitor in technology,” he says.
Navigating the Corridor
The Florida High Tech Corridor’s initiatives include:
The Virtual Entrepreneur Center: The flvec.com website, a partnership with local economic development organizations, is designed to be a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs who are looking for business resources. The center offers a catalog of local, regional, state, and global business resources organized by county, as well as a directory of businesses that offer services catering to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
stemCONNECT: This educational initiative connects academia and private industry by bringing experts in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to classrooms. Through video conferencing, stemCONNECT’s virtual sessions have introduced high-tech careers to more than 4,700 students since 2013.
GrowFL: Created in 2009 by the Florida Legislature, GrowFL provides technical assistance for second-stage growth companies. The program provides the resources owners need to start, expand, or relocate a business, as well as strategies, resources, and support for next-level growth. GrowFL has assisted more than 700 companies, representing more than $2 billion in economic impact. GrowFL is funded in part by the Corridor Council.
Incubators: The Corridor Council supports the region’s business incubators in their mission to accelerate the growth of startup companies through mentoring and monitoring processes. Studies of the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program found that the total economic output from client and graduate companies exceeds $355 million annually.