Florida leads the nation in the number of university research parks with an impressive nine. An innovation economy holds the future for the state, the country and the world.
If research is the heart of an innovation economy, then university research parks are how we measure its pulse. The universities and the park’s tenant companies supply the blood flow through a system of veins, all connected. The commercialization of the research translating into new companies and products entering the market—literally breathes life into the economy.
A simplistic explanation for a complex concept.
“Florida has more research parks than theme parks,” says Joe Wallace, executive director of the Central Florida Research Park in Orlando. He is correct.
Actually, Florida has the most university research parks of any state in the country. There are nine university research parks located throughout Florida, and the Super Region is home to four of them.
The Central Florida Research Park (CFRP) affiliated with the University of Central Florida is the largest in Florida located on 1,027 acres with 126 companies, 59 buildings and 10,000 employees. It is also the fourth largest in the nation based on number of companies and the oldest in Florida.
If you were solving a puzzle, what would be the answer to the following clues: World War II; President John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1961 about landing a man on the moon; the Cuban missile crisis; military defense training; technology and Central Florida? The answer would be the history of the UCF and by extension its associated research park.
Dr. John Hitt has been president of UCF since 1992. Hitt made one of his top 5 goals of “partnership” official last September, when UCF trademarked the slogans, “America’s Partnership University” and “America’s Leading Partnership University.”
“In the Central Florida Research Park adjacent to our campus, UCF shares three partnership buildings with military, modeling and simulation agencies, which form the cornerstone of our region’s $5 billion industry,” notes Hitt. “We are seeking state funding this year to begin planning for a fourth partnership building that would help the industry continue to grow.”
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, author of the 1942 book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” coined the term “creative destruction” and is widely viewed as the father of innovation economics.
According to the Information Technology & Innovation Forum, innovation economics holds that it is innovation that drives growth and that the most important economic task for government is to promote productivity growth and innovation, even if such policies “distort” the market. While markets get it right some times, when it comes to spurring innovation and productivity, innovation economics holds that markets and price signals alone are not enough. Therefore, innovation economics holds that policies to help institutions (i.e., entrepreneurs, firms, industries, universities, regions and governments) to act in ways to increase innovation and productivity should be at the center of economic policy. Among other tools, this entails an array of public-private partnerships and public investments in the building blocks of innovation.
As we emerge from the worst recession in the U.S., arguably since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the importance of an innovation-based economy has never been more evident. Knowledge is the new currency in today’s competitive business environment.
Smart is the new rich.
Entrepreneurs, thought leaders and researchers are today’s equivalent of industry captains of the early 1900s. A key difference is that potential revenue is a click away or an IPO, and overnight we have seen examples of startups generating millions and in some cases billions of dollars.
Protection of intellectual property has become so important it was center stage during President Obama’s trip to Asia in late April to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal with 12 Pacific Rim countries. When IP rights are protected through a strong legal framework, companies are more confident in trading with and investing in those countries, which also increases exports and economic growth.
Innovation knows no global boundaries.
Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission, has invaluable insight into university research parks globally and here in the U.S. He headed the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina from 2004 through 2011 and is currently serving his final year as the first American president of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation.
“Because across the world there is a transition underway, we’re moving from contained spaces with research parks being purely geographical, to nodes of knowledge, where research parks are elements in the larger geography of innovation. It’s not the dirt that makes the difference. It’s the things that happen on the dirt, and the people that dwell on the dirt, and the degrees of the interconnectivity between town and gown,” says Weddle.
The U.S. is still lagging behind many other countries in our population’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. While we are addressing this, we still have work to do.
Investment in STEM is increasingly seen as a method to help our economy and contribute to job growth, especially in the manufacturing sector. According to a report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in 2010, the number of STEM graduates will have to increase by 20 to 30 percent by 2016 to meet the projected growth of the U.S. economy.
Jerry D. Parrish, Ph.D., chief economist and executive director of the Center for Competitive Florida in Tallahassee, is bringing light to the issue in Florida. “What I’m trying to do is to show the people of Florida and the legislators all the components of an innovation economy that we need to keep going, so Florida can transfer to a high-wage economy and something that’s very diverse that will withstand the next recession we have,” he says.
Parrish is conducting several studies and writing about Florida’s innovation economy, including tech transfer, incubators, angel adventure capital, university research parks and commercializing research.
The need for diversification and a highly skilled workforce was brought to the forefront during the state’s economic downturn. There is a need for STEM curriculums.
“Some of my research shows that Florida had a much longer recession than just the U.S. The U.S. had a 19-month recession; Florida had a 35-month recession,” says Parrish. The tourism and real estate sectors were heavily impacted.
With that in mind the Legislature approved the state’s first polytechnic university. In August, Florida Polytechnic University is opening in Lakeland. The university will focus heavily on applied research.
“At UCF, we produce the third-largest number of STEM graduates in the state university system of Florida,” says Hitt. “For the first time in 2012-13, we awarded more than 1,000 bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science.”
Patti Breedlove, director of the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in Alachua, sees the economic impact up close. “Progress Park is more than an academic hub – it’s an economic powerhouse. The discoveries that research parks make are creating high wage, STEM jobs that propel Florida’s economy forward,” she says about the research park that houses her incubator.
The $9 million research and development tax credit in Florida for the 2013 calendar year has been allocated. If the federal government authorizes the credit for 2014, taxpayers will be able to apply beginning on March 20, 2015.
PROBING THE PARKS
The youngest of Florida’s nine research parks is Florida Tech Research Park, which opened in April 2013. The director of the park is former astronaut, Capt. Winston Scott, the Florida Institute of Technology’s senior vice president for external relations and economic development. The Florida Tech Research Park, located within the Melbourne International Airport, represents the largest research, science and technology park located at an FAA-approved airport.
Global airports are an important asset to university research parks. “One of the things that I like to look at when I do an economic analysis is the number of direct flights,” Parrish says. “Certainly Orlando is ranked highly there, and Tampa as well. When you get more direct flights you have not only more innovation economy growth, you have more business relocation to that area.”
The University of South Florida Research Park is part of the ninth largest public research university in the nation, located in the heart of Tampa’s “Innovation Zone” on the school’s campus. The USF Research Park is an important piece of the high-tech economic development mosaic for the Tampa Bay region. Its metropolitan setting, just minutes from interstate highways I-75, I-275, and I-4, is less than 15 minutes from Tampa International Airport.
Dr. Paul Sanberg, USF’s senior vice president for research and innovation, describes the synergy at his facility and research parks overall. “They generally help to create a culture of innovation. And that’s true at USF. The research park is attached to the university. Every faculty member drives to the university and sees the research park.”
He adds, “We want every company that comes into the research park to consider themselves part of the university, even if they don’t license our technology. If they have their own technology that they brought, they are still going to consistently work with professors in the future and take interns from among our students. This is important for an ecosystem.” Sanberg also pointed out that some faculty groups share a building at the research park with some companies.
“There’s a synergy—a collision—between faculty and company people. These collisions can create new opportunities for research for the faculty and new opportunities of technology for the companies.”
There is also a great deal of activity at the 204-acre Progress Park, located 20 minutes from the University of Florida campus. This private research park in the city of Alachua has been at the epicenter of a rapidly maturing, UF-related life science industry cluster.
The Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator was the recipient of three first-place international awards in 2013. An independent survey found that Sid Martin companies and graduates created 1,467 local jobs from 2004 to 2010 with a local economic impact of $100 million annually and more than $1 billion in funding in mergers and acquisitions.
Meanwhile farther south, the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University is a separate and independent special district created by Palm Beach and Broward counties in 1985. Its purpose is to create and sustain the ideal environment for innovation and invention, maximizing the academic and entrepreneurial talent and regional resources in South Florida to accelerate economic development and prosperity. “The Research Park and the Technology Business Incubator bring community entrepreneurial talent to the university community, infusing their creativity into the educational process,” says Andrew Duffell, president and CEO.
Florida’s university research parks are all unique with their structures, organizations and governance, but they share the same vision of connectivity, knowledge, innovation and a future full of promise driving economic development down a road we can only imagin.
Editor’s Note: At press time the Legislature approved $8 million to begin designing a fourth partnership building in the CFRP, allowing for more growth for defense agencies located there.