This week’s Post

By Anthony Clark Business editor at The Gainesville Sun

Local businesses have pledged $6 million to the Council for Economic Outreach’s five-year plan to help create 3,500 new jobs and $250 million in capital investments.

Council volunteer Kevin Monroe of Cox Communications offered a champagne toast Wednesday during the CEO’s Investor Luncheon at Mark’s Prime Steakhouse after 59 businesses contributed to the fundraising goal that doubled the last fundraiser in 2010.

Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and the council, said a more ambitious goal was needed for the Transforming Greater Gainesville plan to build on momentum and make opportunities a reality.

“We really owe it to our community, to our kids, to everyone who’s in school today to put our best foot forward and be as aggressive in pursuing opportunities as we can because the world is changing, and if we don’t take this leap now, when will the community ever take that leap?” he said.

Opportunities for children was a common theme.

CEO Chairman Todd Powell of Plum Creek said he was surprised to learn that 50 percent of students in Alachua County schools qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“The business community needs to come together with government, with the educational institutions, with Alachua County Public Schools. It’s up to all of us, so I look forward to working with everyone here to help make things better for every child within our school system.”

Ian Fletcher, vice president of workforce development, noted that new Superintendent Owen Roberts plans to convene the community to leverage limited resources to transform the education system “from cradle to career.”

Specific goals include completing 10 business development projects that create 700 new jobs each year, said Susan Davenport, vice president of economic development.

She said local, national and international marketing campaigns will start in the first quarter of the year to rebrand greater Gainesville.

The Chamber and CEO also plan to convene a third industry council this year, this one for agricultural sciences to take advantage of the corporate ties to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Last year, the Advanced Manufacturing Council recruited 15 members to its board, and a new Gainesville Technology Council convened with four entrepreneurs with plans to expand this year.

Davenport said the councils are working on issues such as how to keep and retain talent and to keep startup companies from leaving.

Last year, the CEO increased its company attraction, retention and expansion projects from 36 to 70, and took volunteers on four out-of-town recruiting trips that led to 56 meetings. Davenport thanked UF and Mayor Ed Braddy for leading the marketing delegation trips.

The CEO also announced $256 million in capital investment projects and 292 jobs last year, with most of that coming from Coqui RadioPharmaceuticals with plans to build a $250 million radioisotope manufacturing facility with 164 jobs in Alachua.

The Chamber is continuing to put together a network to help “trailing spouses” or partners find jobs as part of efforts to recruit and retain the other partner and will have a dedicated staff person who can help set up interviews.

Kamal Latham, vice president of public policy, said the Chamber has made progress on the political front but still has work to do. He noted that the city of Gainesville has adopted nearly half of the Chamber’s recommendations to make it easier for small businesses on issues such as permitting and zoning. The Chamber is still advocating for a separate utility board to take oversight of Gainesville Regional Utilities from the City Commission and for improved transportation after last year’s failed surtax vote.