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Florida Economy Thrives Through Life Sciences and Alternative Energy Initiatives
Mali R. Schantz-Feld (Feb/Mar 08)
 
"Florida is a growth economy, even when the overall national economy is slowing," says Sena Black, senior vice president of marketing and strategic intelligence for Enterprise Florida. Global Insight, an economic forecasting and financial analysis firm, estimated that Florida's real GDP grew at an annualized rate of 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2007, nearly three times as fast as the U.S. economy over the same time period.

Helping research evolve into industry, the Sunshine State's Centers of Excellence programs revolve around the life sciences, optics/photonics, alternative energy, and advanced materials. The program, which has grown from three centers in 2003 to nine in 2007, received an appropriation of $100 million during the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

"The state is experiencing high value-added growth in critical clusters, such as the life sciences," says Black. Several notable life sciences projects have already made the headlines. Scripps Florida has temporarily located on the campus of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Jupiter; and Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in Port St. Lucie and the Bonham Institute in Lake Nona (Orlando) are both scheduled to open next year.

The Max Planck Institute of Bio-imaging in Jupiter - a research center focused on advanced optical microscopy, magnetic resonance and imaging sciences - is being developed on the campus of FAU. Black notes that at the institute, researchers will delve into the structure, dynamics and function of molecules and tissues relating to biology, bioengineering and medicine. In Germany, the Max Planck Society is a 78-institute nonprofit research entity that has been responsible for breakthroughs in various diseases through the efforts of its 4,200 scientists.

In October 2007, bioRASI, a strategic initiative of the Russian Academy of Sciences, chose Hollywood as the location for its new 12,000-square-foot worldwide headquarters that will employ 48 people over the next two years. BioRASI collaborates with biotech and pharmaceutical companies in Europe and North America to improve health and cure diseases and develop innovative therapeutics.

Legislation continues to encourage alternative energy research. "Governor [Charlie] Crist has made a strong commitment to help make Florida a state-of-the-art alternative energy center," says Black. "Our utilities are already beginning to do exciting things." In December, Progress Energy of St. Petersburg signed a contract with Atlanta's Biomass Gas & Electric to purchase electricity produced from yard trimmings, tree bark and wood knots at a waste-wood biomass plant planned to begin production in 2011 in either north or central Florida.

Other technologies have also launched promising businesses in Florida, including modeling/simulation and training and digital media in the Orlando area and aviation and aerospace. "Day Jet, a company born in Florida, established a new model for transportation-regional, on-demand transport for people who don't want the headaches of commercial flights for short distances," says Black. Regional airports are creating new infrastructure to accommodate the proprietary scheduling needed for this genre.

Aerospace has evolved to include NASA's launches at Cape Canaveral, research and development technology, and a new niche in "space tourism" and commercial orbital transportation. Back on terra firma, Black notes that homeland security is an active niche. Besides the state's defense installations, "a whole new area of defense involving research and technology to solve bioterrorism and biometrics issues is an important platform for the future," she says.

 
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