The darling of local government and the Chamber of Commerce is the Innovation Gainesville initiative. The Chamber’s mission statement for the Innovation future is to: “Harness innovation in the Gainesville area, create jobs in health and green technologies, and raise the standard of living for all.” The arrival of significant tech companies such as Mindtree and Mobiquity and the creation of Innovation Square is living proof to the potential of Innovation Gainesville.
Often overshadowed and overlooked – but no less important – is the existing manufacturing sector of our economy. Our perception of industry and manufacturing is often tainted by experience from the past. Billowing smokestacks and pipelines dumping chemicals into rivers come to mind. I grew up near Fox River in Illinois, which actually caught on fire. Add occasional news items such as the recent spill of toxic chemicals into the Elk River in West Virginia leaves us leery of locating industry in our backyard.
What people overlook is the vast majority of potential pollution problems have been addressed and there are more and more clean industries that are contributing to our communities.
All economists will tell you that the basis for a strong local, state, and national economy is a solid manufacturing base. In Alachua County, 3.5% of the work force is employed in manufacturing. Statewide, the number is closer to 5%. Manufacturing wages tend to be higher than wages in the private sector. In 2010, the private sector average annual wage was $40,000 while manufacturing salaries averaged over $50,000.
Manufactured goods account for over 85% of Florida’s exports. Data suggests that dollar for dollar manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect on the rest of the economy. Manufacturing also spends more money in Research and Development than other businesses.
Locally we have several high profile clean manufacturing companies contributing significantly to our economy. Recently, Nanotherapeutics announced they are building a 145,000 square foot facility in Progress Park. Eventually they will create up to 150 high paying jobs. Exactech is another local success story ranking in Florida Trends Top 100 companies from 2008 through 2011. Prioria Robotics and RTI Biologics are other example of local high-tech companies experiencing solid growth through development and manufacturing. And these companies all occupy BIG BUILDINGS!
What does the future hold for Big Buildings in Florida and Alachua County? Governor Scott is in the forefront promoting and campaigning for clean industries to come to Florida. The Governor’s office and the legislature are investigating lowering or eliminating sales tax on equipment as well as tangible personal property taxes and corporate income taxes. Both state and local government have shown they will consider serious dollar incentives to bring the right companies to the area.
The Council of Economic Outreach and the Advanced Manufacturing Association of North Central Florida are working to make Alachua County a manufacturing-friendly community. Gainesville Regional Utilities is considering lowering rates for customers using over 100,000 kilowatts per hour per month.
Privately, Plum Creek, as part of the Envision Alachua Master Plan, is projecting to build 6 million square feet of R&D, office, and institutional space along with 8 million square feet of manufacturing space. This project alone has a potential for 24,000 to 36,000 jobs.
In other words, there is a campaign at the state and local level to expand our manufacturing base. It’s not just tech companies like Mindtree we need, it’s R&D companies, manufacturing companies, and other forms of light industry. Our area has multiple big buildings that are move-in ready for a manufacturing operation. And we’ve got great spots all over the county where a major facility could be built. Need railroad siding? We’ve got it. Need an educated labor base? We’ve got it. Need a realtor? Got those, too.
North Central Florida is a beautiful place to live and we’ve figured out how to live side-by-side with the kinds of businesses that bring jobs and prosperity to the area. We need to work together to bring big companies that need big buildings to our part of Florida. We all benefit.