Council for Economic Outreach talks of doubling number of projects

The economic development arm of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce is in the process of developing an ambitious plan to grow both the number of jobs and investment in the region. The council for Economic Outreach met the goals of its five-year plan, Momentum 2015, halfway through the initiative and are now in the process of putting their next plan into action. The plan hopes to accelerate momentum and is focusing its efforts on target industries. The Council for Economic Outreach is confident that Gainesville is capable of being a player on the global stage, and they are prepared to overcome the challenges that stand in the regions way.

From The Gainesville Sun - By Anthony Clark, Business editor

After the Council for Economic Outreach met its economic development goals halfway through its five-year plan, the group is starting early on its next plan, which promises to be a lot more ambitious in how many jobs are created and how much money is invested by new and growing companies in the region.

The CEO, the economic development arm of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, has put together a draft plan after meeting with 150 business leaders and organizations over the last year and a half and will be holding another 50 meetings in the coming weeks for feedback before finishing the details.

The 2010 plan, called Momentum 2015, set goals of 1,200 new jobs and $5 million in capital investment from working with new, relocating and growing companies — with both figures reached midway through last year following announcements by companies such as Mindtree to create 400 jobs and Mobiquity to create 260. Nanotherapeutics alone committed to a $135 million investment to build its new facility in Alachua.

Specifics for new, higher goals have yet to be announced, but will reflect increased opportunities combined with more targeted efforts by the chamber, according to David Popen of Convergent Nonprofit Solutions, the Atlanta consulting firm hired to help raise funds for the effort.

“This is about accelerating our momentum,” Popen said during a luncheon Wednesday at Mark’s Prime with about 50 business leaders who have contributed in the CEO.

Council Chairman John Carlson of CPPI noted that the CEO is currently working with 37 companies on attraction, retention and expansion projects compared with eight to 12 projects at a time in past years, and planned to double that to 70 by the end of the year

To do that will require more of an investment from local business partners, Popen said, noting that the chamber is incredibly busy and needs more staff, more volunteers and more resources. A fundraising goal will also be announced later.

“We are in a highly competitive environment for jobs,” he said. “We believe the CEO as an organization can ramp up its funding goal to meet the competition. We have an incredible demand in terms of consumer interest in our market.”

The plans for the year include four recruiting trips — Washington, D.C., in May, Chicago or Minneapolis in July, Silicon Valley in October and New York City in December.

Susan Davenport, chamber vice president of economic development, said that has worked for her in other jobs.

The destinations were chosen based on the industries and companies they want to target and where they think Gainesville has a cost advantage, she said.

President and CEO Tim Giuliani said the various chamber functions have been reorganized to focus on target industries that should bolster its economic development efforts in those areas.

For example, the chamber has formed an information technology council withl local IT leaders and has partnered with the Advanced Manufacturing Association of North Central Florida.

Of the 37 current prospects, 13 are in technology and information and 12 are in advanced manufacturing.

Popen said the plan will address several challenges Gainesville faces, including the perception that the city is too small to be a global player.

“Hogwash,” he said. “We have every asset to play on a global stage. We’ve already started but we have to take the time to tell the story internally to get our own folks to believe this reality, and to tell it externally.”

The University of Florida and Santa Fe College in particular give the area a competitive advantage in workforce development and leadership cultivation, he said.

Other challenges include a lack of talent for companies as they start to grow, as evidenced by the recent announcement by Feathr that it is moving to Austin, Texas, in part to find more experienced software developers and sales staff.

There is also a need for different types of real estate, a wider variety of jobs for different skill levels and a need to maintain a business-friendly environment, Popen said.

The chamber and CEO are also taking a more regional view of economic development, partnering with all the municipalities in the county and planning to partner with neighboring counties.

Popen noted that Jacksonville includes Gainesville as part of its market in luring companies.

“We have world-class assets that show well when packaged regionally,” he said.


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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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