Innovation Square wants to change the way young people and companies have traditionally thought of Gainesville. Twenty years ago, it was characterized as a degree destination, said Ed Poppell, the Director of Economic Development for Innovation Square. Students came to UF to get an education, and then often left to find a job in a bigger, more exciting economic area. Poppell wants to transform that stigma.
“We want to make Gainesville a career destination,” he said. “Not only can you come and get an outstanding college degree, you can also get an outstanding job and a career path in Gainesville.”
Innovation Square is a prime community for forward-thinking companies and jobseekers. The site, where the Alachua General Hospital stood 20 years ago, encompasses 40 acres that will holistically provide for companies launching in Gainesville, from office space and employee housing to a captivating community atmosphere.
Innovation Square leverages Gainesville’s assets to attract today’s labor force. As the millennial generation enters the workforce, there is a rising emphasis on natural communities. This generation’s preferences differ greatly from Poppell’s generation and those before it, he recalled. “They prefer a live-work-play community were all those activities are within walking, biking and skateboarding distance, versus my generation that relied more on suburbia,” Poppell said.
Innovation Square offers jobseekers those conveniences with its progressive foundation. Recently the infrastructure was completed, including a park and roads with small, “walkable” blocks. Many employees will live in the community, in an entrepreneurs dormitory coming in summer 2015, and an upscale apartment complex, which will break ground in summer 2015.
We can expect to see the all-inclusive trend flourish in the next 20 years, Poppell said. However, it will by no means replace Gainesville’s suburban neighborhoods, he said. It is one of many valuable options that Gainesville can offer companies and job-hunters.
Most importantly, success will not be isolated to the innovation district, Poppell said. Innovation Square looks for businesses that will be long-term contributors to the overall Gainesville economy. It prioritizes opportunities with high paying jobs and benefits, and companies that can grow the local higher-tech scientific community.
Economic development affects the livelihood of virtually all community members. “We hope that all boats will rise – with more jobs, better jobs, it will improve everyone’s quality of life,” he said.
With growth at Innovation Square, the community will bridge UF and downtown Gainesville to “revitalize, grow and bring jobs and entertainment, and livelihood on Second Avenue,” Poppell said. He hopes that Innovation Square will extend growth and vibrant workforces to all of Alachua, Newberry and Hawthorne.
“It’s a single goal that we would look back 20 years, and say we’ve increased the job base in Gainesville by thousands of jobs… and we’ve diversified our economy,” he said.
The innovation district exemplifies Gainesville’s potential to attract rising businesses and high-skilled work forces. In the next 20 years, Glaeser hopes to see Gainesville cultivate employment opportunities on all levels.
“The chamber is very focused on the GED to the Ph.D. level of job,” Glaeser said. “Every person has a talent, and the dignity of having a job and
being able to raise a family and to have a quality of life that Gainesville and this area has to offer, is the real focus of what the Chamber’s work does – for every person at every level.”
Plum Creek has plans to create these levels of opportunity in East Gainesville.