Tampa Bay High-Tech Corridor

Tampa Bay High-Tech Corridor

Tourism, retirees and agriculture might have put Florida on the map, but the state is also becoming a mecca for high-tech industry. Nowhere is the transformation more evident than along what’s known as the Florida High-Tech Corridor, a 23-county area that runs from Tampa through Orlando to the Space Coast and bumps up to include Gainesville and Alachua County.

Tampa Bay High-Tech Corridor

In Tampa Bay, nobody wants “Florida” and innovative” to become more than a punch line more than Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe. In late December, after seeing Bloomberg’s ranking of innovative states, he posted on Twitter: “Florida’s quest must be to dominate this category.”

Sharpe argues that Tampa Bay and Florida can rise in the innovation ranks. He has a plan.

1) “Attract the best companies to Florida,” he says.

There are signs that is happening with the state luring firms renowned for their innovation, including Scripps Research in Jupiter, Draper Lab in Tampa and St. Petersburg, SRI in St. Petersburg, and more recently Bristol-Myers Squibb in Tampa, among other examples.

2) “Support our nascent startup community,” says Sharpe.

That’s clearly under way, with a regional burst of business incubators and entrepreneur programs gaining reputation at both USF St. Petersburg and USF Tampa, the University of Tampa and other institutions.

Sharpe has gone further, backing up his political talk with real money. Last year he helped push through Hillsborough County the Economic Development Innovation Initiative. Backed with an initial $2 million, the so-called EDI2 aims to help drive the growth of technology and innovative startups and scale-worthy small businesses in the area.

Is $2 million a game changer? It’s chicken feed. The real message of EDI2 is that Hillsborough acknowledges the county needs to help financially support innovative business startups — just as the county spends taxpayer money to lure existing businesses here from afar with hefty incentive packages.

3) “Emphasize STEAM” is Sharpe’s third leg of his innovation stool.

That’s a twist on the better-known approach to science, technology, engineering and math education, commonly known as STEM. Adding an “A” for the arts makes it STEAM.

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