In 2014, the Gainesville Area Chamber changed its vision and mission statement to more accurately reflect the economic opportunities at hand as well as the directional focus of the new five-year economic development strategy.
THE VISION OF THE GAINESVILLE CHAMBER IS FOR THE GREATER GAINESVILLE REGION TO BE A GLOBAL HUB OF TALENT, INNOVATION AND OPPORTUNITY.
The new five-year plan aligns two of the strategy’s major elements — marketing and enhanced business development — to be global in nature, based mostly around our target industry sectors. But, do we have what it takes to be a global city? Do we belong on the global stage? You bet we do!
I heard a comment recently that Gainesville is in the process of transitioning from a small “college town” to a “university city.” I think this is a true statement, and I think “international” plays a significant part in this transition. Looking at local data from the November 2013 data analysis prepared by Avalanche Consulting, they note that foreignborn populations are a reflection of general diversity and international connectivity in a community. Alachua County has a slightly above-average share of foreign-born residents at approximately 11 percent (this figure is slightly higher than the national average and benchmark averages of 10 percent).
But, look at the University of Florida numbers to get a bigger picture of our international outreach and potential. In the fall of 2013, UF enrolled 4,642 international students in active classes. This number ranked UF as the 20th institution in the country in terms of international student populations, according to the Institute for International Education’s annual Open Doors Report. The UF International Center notes that UF’s “international” makeup encompasses 5,000 international students from over 130 different countries, nearly 2,000 international scholars and faculty and a home base for over 2,000 study abroad students in more than 50 countries. Those students eventually become part of the coveted “Gator Nation” on one continent or another. In economic development, we call that opportunity.
It’s also important to look at our recent international activity and export record to gauge where we stand currently. In 2012, the Chamber and the Council for Economic Outreach (CEO) were involved in the recruitment of Mindtree, an India-based global IT services firm. In 2014, a UK-based company called BioMonde opened a Gainesville office, and in 2014, Asphericon from Germany opened a small sales office in this region (after touring throughout Florida for a site). Delegations from the Philippines, Israel, Poland and Japan have visited Gainesville, and the Chamber and CEO are able to undertake targeted business events to familiarize these groups with all things Gainesville and our region as a whole.
In regards to exports, the Gainesville MSA measured a 22.1 percent growth in exports from 2008-2012, with some decline in 2013. In 2013, the region‘s top exports were listed as manufactured products, including medical devices and other electrical, chemical, plastics, computer and electronic product manufacturing (of course food and crop production are in the mix as well). While the overall numbers are small in comparison to larger regions and cities, we believe the growth potential is strong, especially now that we have commenced the new fiveyear strategy. The strategy includes targeted marketing to international site selectors, multinational corporations and other key entities throughout the world.
I think the future is bright for Gainesville’s international opportunities and reputation. As we leverage our partnerships with Enterprise Florida and its 14 international trade offices around the world, increase our Export Gainesville Initiative that includes company consultations and export educational services (call the Chamber for details and opportunities!), and undertake international delegation marketing and outreach trips as well as targeted corporate recruitment on the international front, I believe our vision of this region as a global hub of talent, innovation and opportunity is achievable.