Progress Corporate Park: From Agriculture to Bio-culture

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Scientific discoveries and new developments are taking place everyday in Alachua County. What used to be known as a sleepy farm town is quickly becoming home to successful biotech firms and some of the brights researchers in the country. Nick Banks discusses the parallels between Alachua of the past and the future. 

By Nick Banks for Business in the Heart of Florida 

Recently, I was invited to participate in a brainstorming session to help think of some creative ways Progress Corporate Park in Alachua could be marketed.  The meeting took place at Alachua’s City Hall in the City Manager’s office and there were several stakeholders present from Progress Park, including Patti Breedlove, director of the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator, as well as leaders from companies like AxoGen, Nanotherapeutics, and Banyan Biomarkers.  At the meeting, Adam Boukari, the assistant City Manager, gave us an historical overview of Alachua and specifically the community’s roots (pun intended) in agriculture.  The community still has deep ties to agriculture but has also emerged as a world renowned hub for biomedical research, invention and production.

The representatives from the biomed companies then went on to briefly discuss the evolution of their companies.  Many were spawned from research or intellectual property originated from the University of Florida.  They often began with just one or two people in a small lab.  Almost all of the companies have had a presence at the Sid Martin Incubator and many still do.  These companies were all cultivated from almost nothing into the companies they are today.  Many of the companies in Progress Corporate Park are now doing business all over the globe.  RTI, for example, began as a small company like this and now has about 1,000 employees doing business all over the world.

Hearing the history of Alachua alongside the history of these companies brought to mind some obvious parallels between growing crops and growing companies.  Progress Corporate Park grows companies in much the same way that farmers in the area grow crops like blueberries or strawberries.

The seed in the case of the biomed company is the idea.  This is where it starts.  To flourish and grow, a seed must be planted in the fertile soil.  For the biomed company, that fertile soil is provided in places like Progress Corporate Park.  Access to shared equipment, testing labs, collaboration with other scientists and plentiful, talented labor pools are all part of the fertile soil provided.  Water and fertilizer are used to nourish and grow crops.  The nourishment the companies receive is in the form of funding from investors, contacts from private companies or from governmental agencies.  We see cross pollination when companies join forces or create partnerships.

I’m not a farmer or a scientist, but I do remember a couple of things from biology class.  Sunshine is an absolutely essential ingredient to allow plants and crops to grow.  Without light, plants die.  What is the sunshine and life we can provide for our biomed community?  I think the more we can all do to shed light upon the amazing things that are happening right here in our community, the more interest we will see from companies and talented individuals from the outside. That sunshine will draw them here and allow us to shine even brighter.

I’ve been in several meetings with CEOs visiting from out of town and have seen the reaction they have when they learn about all the mind-boggling innovation being created right here in our community.  We have wonderful resources here and have so much to offer.  We have all the necessary ingredients to create, nurture, develop and mature an ever-growing crop of amazing biomed companies.


Nick Banks

Nick created Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group in 2002 and spent the first eight years developing and acquiring office and retail projects in South Florida as well as North Central Florida. In 2010 the focus of the firm was shifted to primarily serve third party clients and perform brokerage, property management and mortgage banking functions. Nick has personally developed and acquired nearly 200,000 square feet of office and retail properties in markets throughout Florida. Prior to founding Front Street, Nick was the Director of Finance and Dispositions for Stiles Corporation in Fort Lauderdale where he financed and sold over $500 million in commercial real estate. Before joining Stiles, Nick was an Associate Director at GE Capital Real Estate where he sourced over $200 million in financing throughout Florida. Nick is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Finance and a concentration in Real Estate. He serves as a board member and current vice-chair for the United Way of North Central Florida where he also chairs the Development Committee. Nick is actively involved with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce where he serves as a board member and committee member for the Council for Economic Outreach. He is also a recent graduate of Leadership Gainesville which is a year long leadership program hosted by the Chamber. He is a member of Grace United Methodist Church where he has served as finance chair and as a member of the leadership council. Nick serves as an advisory board member of the University of Florida Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies. Nick was recently named chair of the Gainesville committee for the North Florida chapter of Urban Land Institute (ULI). He is a licensed real estate broker in the State of Florida and is a long time member of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

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