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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