By Nathan Crabbe | The Gainesville Sun
After serving as University of Florida student body president and graduating nearly two years ago, Jordan Johnson left town to work for General Electric.
Now, he's back in Gainesville as co-founder and president of Totuit, a mobile application development company housed in the new Florida Innovation Hub at UF.
At Wednesday's dedication, Johnson said the facility could help change a mindset held by many graduates that they have to leave Gainesville to start their careers.
"Nobody was thinking that they could start a dream in the place where they grew up and went to school," he said.
Three months after the hub opened for business, UF held a dedication for the facility that included speeches from officials and a performance by dancers dressed like robots.
The 48,000-square-foot building houses UF's Office of Technology Licensing and serves as a business incubator for technology start-ups, 15 of which have already moved in.
Built on the former Shands at AGH site, the hub is the centerpiece of a planned 40-acre Innovation Square development meant to better connect campus and downtown. UF President Bernie Machen said the development is part of a "new, seamless Gainesville" that helps put disputes between the city and university in the past.
"Today, we have a shared faith in the power of innovation to bring economic prosperity while preserving Gainesville's distinctive quality of life," he said.
The dedication was full of lofty talk about the hub's potential to create the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future in the area.
UF Chief Operating Officer Win Phillips cited the work of futurist Richard Florida and others who have noted that the city is among a handful of places with research universities and an environment suited to develop companies with such jobs.
"We are being noticed ... and noticed far beyond our size, but certainly appropriately for our plans for the future," he said.
The hub's tenants include law offices, accounting firms and venture capitalists intended to help start-up companies develop commercial products created by UF faculty and students. Johnson said the hub's appeal is being around bright people and being able to bounce ideas off them.
Totuit, which Johnson co-founded with Fabulous Coach Lines President Ray Land, is developing mobile applications for the transportation industry. Johnson said the applications could be used on iPads for bus drivers to communicate with their main office and passengers alike about things such as route delays.
For start-up companies at the hub, he said, Gainesville's next challenge is having space for these companies to grow if they become successful.
"The options are really limited," Johnson said. "You have to keep these people in Gainesville."
Another building planned to be constructed adjacent to the hub, the 120,000-square-foot Infusion Technology Center, is intended for just such a purpose. A dormitory for entrepreneurial-minded students, now being called Inspiration Hall, also is planned for the AGH site. Other plans for the area include commercial businesses such as a grocery store and hotel.
The hub was funded through an $8.2 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration and $5 million from UF.
John Fernandez, an assistant commerce secretary who heads the office, said the "relatively modest investment" will have a catalytic effort in terms of drawing other investment and businesses to the area.
"We're counting on you to be successful because we need regions, we need cities and universities like we have here ... creating the jobs of the future if America's going to succeed," Fernandez said.