Florida Among the Top Contenders
The swaying palm trees and sandy beaches are a plus, but it’s the thriving high-tech industry and growth opportunities that have led top technology companies to relocate or build in the Sunshine State.
Home to the fourth-largest tech industry in the U.S., Florida boasts more than 30,200 tech companies employing nearly 312,000 people. Tech giants like Microsoft, Citrix, EA Tiburon and Motorola have found homes in Florida, thanks to a business-friendly climate, quality talent pool, sound infrastructure and a high quality of life.
BRIDG, in central Florida, is breaking new ground with a state-of-the-art facility and technology park that capitalizes on the area’s strengths. “Florida has longstanding and world-recognized strength in key targeted industries such as optics and photonics, simulation and training, aerospace and defense,” said Gloria LeQuang, director of marketing and community relations for BRIDG.
Founded in 2014 as the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR), the not-for-profit connects researchers and industry to fuel the development of emerging technologies focusing on smart sensors. In 2017, the company rebranded as BRIDG – Bridging the Innovation Development Gap. LeQuang said as partner companies move their products through the development cycle, BRIDG provides the infrastructure to test ideas and serve as the “bridge” to product commercialization. Once companies are ready for mass production, they transition to higher volume production options outside of BRIDG.
In April 2017, BRIDG unveiled its 109,000 square-foot facility at the 500-acre NeoCity technology park in the Central Florida region. “It is designed as one of the world’s most flexible and adaptable labs.” LeQuang said. Because minimizing vibration and ensuring security were priorities for nano-scale projects, 7,000 tons of stone were used for the foundation – drilling down about 40 feet below ground. A second-story, six-million-pound waffle slab is 3.5 feet thick to support complex research tools with minimal vibration. The site has two cleanrooms – one operating at Class 100 standards and the other at Class 10,000. “Only a handful of facilities like this exist globally,” she said. “We are a state-of-the-art boutique lab flexible enough to keep up with the ever-evolving pace of technology.”
Florida’s network of higher educational facilities is an advantage, LeQuang said, not only for the talent pool, but for access to research. “The University of Central Florida has a world-renowned doctorate program in optics and photonics. That alone has put us miles ahead of any other state,” she said. Award-winning programs in cybertechnology at area universities and access to more than 500,000 students in the 100-mile region makes for a solid base of educational infrastructure. “Having access to a skilled workforce is critical to company success,” LeQuang said. To date, BRIDG has attracted more than $200 million in funding, from local, state, and federal government, as well as industry leaders. BRIDG’s partners include Osceola County, University of Central Florida, Florida High Tech Corridor Council, State of Florida, Harris Corporation, Tupperware and Photon-X, among others.
In the next 10 years, BRIDG estimates it will impact the creation of 4,000 to 5,000 high-tech jobs and three- to four times that number in support level jobs. “These jobs include high-wage, high-skill jobs ranging from positions for certificate-level workers to those with advanced degrees,” LeQuang said. Location, location, location is four times as strong in Florida, with access by land, sea, air and space, she said. “You want to be accessible to the world. The reason we do what we do is economic transformation for our region, state and country, and to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., but you need to be in an area that can have access all over the world,” LeQuang said. “We can do that through Florida’s quadrimodal infrastructure – land, sea, air and space. That’s an attribute that Florida offers that not many other states have.”
The state’s business-friendly climate, with a low corporate tax rate and no state income tax, is important both when recruiting workforce and lobbying other companies to co-locate within the same region, she said. But don’t count out the sunshine, year-round good weather, access to beaches and eclectic arts and culture scene that ensures a high quality of life. In Florida, people can afford to live, she said. “If you look at some places up north, homeownership is such a foreign concept, but here it’s a reality for a lot of people. It’s an important factor,” LeQuang said.
Overall, the key to Florida’s popularity for the tech industry is access, she said. “I think accessibility is key – access to talent, access to infrastructure, and access to a good quality of life.”