Leon County as a tech cluster? It's possible

The following OpEd appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat today, August 24th, 2018:  

Leon County as a tech cluster?  It’s possible

By Rick Minor

It is August 24th, in the year 2038.  The Civic Center is hosting a tech conference that has captured the world’s attention.  The Wall Street Journal, in anticipation of the event, has proclaimed Tallahassee as “America’s Best Mid-Sized City for Innovation”.  

Rick_Minor_head_shot_(Wade_Bishop_Photography).jpgBill Gates, now a spry 82 years old, is attending but he’s not the keynote speaker.  In fact, he’s not even on the speakers’ program.  Why not?  Because the conference is focused instead on Innovation Park’s booming magnetics industry cluster – a collection of new tech companies commercializing the research conducted at FSU’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.

This scenario might seem a little far-fetched, but it’s entirely possible.  The MagLab has the largest, most powerful magnet in the world.  Each year, more than 1,000 scientists come to Innovation Park to conduct research in the increasingly pervasive field of magnetics.  Magnetic technology is everywhere – in our smart phones, credit cards, and in many data storage devices – and it has tremendous potential for future innovations.

As such, the MagLab and other specialized research centers at Innovation Park are Tallahassee’s unique competitive advantage.  While most cities cast a wide net in the hopes of snagging just about any business, we can and should adopt a more strategic, more targeted approach.  By focusing our business recruitment efforts toward magnetics, we can cultivate within Innovation Park a magnetics industry cluster that attracts specialized companies offering good, high-paying jobs.  Just as important, these tech companies won’t compete with our existing businesses; instead, they’ll become valuable customers for them.

I can’t take credit for this idea.  FSU’s Gary Ostrander, Danfoss Turbocor’s Ricardo Schneider and other members of the Magnetic Task Force have encouraged this approach for years, and the Tallahassee Democrat’s Editorial Board is also an advocate.  Fortunately, the Office of Economic Vitality is forging ahead, seeking business recruiters with the technical expertise needed to develop these opportunities.

As a community, we should embrace this strategy.  It’s perhaps our most promising economic development opportunity, and it supports a smart growth vision of making Tallahassee an innovative, vibrant mid-size city rather than simply a large one.

Yes, we have big challenges – high crime and economic segregation, to name a couple – but we are also blessed with the tools, talent and resources that can address many of these problems.  By investing in our workforce now, we can ensure Leon County residents are trained for and can benefit from the types of jobs created as a result of the industry cluster. 

Let’s start thinking of the MagLab and other initiatives at Innovation Park as key components of our strategic vision for a thriving, prosperous future for Leon County.  Twenty years from today, we could be in the Civic Center seated next to Bill Gates.

Rick Minor is a candidate for Leon County Commission, District 3.  For more information, please visit www.RickMinor.com