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Every community in the U.S. is trying to recruit engineers, but why not grow them locally so that they already have ties to the community and employers? That’s the idea behind the UF Innovation Station Sarasota County. The program kicked off in March as a partnership between the UF College of Engineering and leaders from the region’s academic, public, private and philanthropic sectors. Allen Carlson, former president and chief executive officer of Sarasota-based Sun Hydraulics, is regional director.

Q.What is the UF Innovation Station Sarasota County?

A. It’s the first extension office of the Florida Engineering Experiment Station (FLEXStation), an arm of UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering in Gainesville. Its mission is to accelerate economic development using the university’s assets.

Q.Why did UF choose our area for the first Innovation Station outside Gainesville?

A. Local leaders convinced the UF College of Engineering that our region is a place where they can make a large impact on the global innovation economy. We have a strong creative class, a wealth of seasoned leadership as well as forward-thinking entrepreneurs and start-ups, collaborative educational, government and philanthropic partners, and a physical environment that can’t be topped. At the same time, our businesses need technology-based economic development to foster growth.

Q.How will Innovation Station benefit the local region?

A. Regional businesses prefer to hire local talent but currently have to do a lot of outside recruiting for engineers. Innovation Station is opening up the student talent-technical jobs pipeline. We have a lot of plans in the works with K-12 schools to boost science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. We are recruiting high school seniors now and working with State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota (SCF) through our new collaborative program, Gator Engineering at SCF. The first class of up to 10 UF engineering students will arrive at SCF Venice in fall 2017 where they will be admitted to UF’s engineering program while starting their coursework at SCF. And we will work to place these engineering students in internships at local companies. Having ready access to UF engineering’s resources is another great benefit for local businesses. We’ve met with 20 local companies and three have signed up for Integrated Product and Process Design (IPPD), an experiential education program in which multidisciplinary teams of senior-year undergraduates, under the guidance of UF faculty coaches, work to design, build and test products for industrial sponsors.

Q.What are the top goals?

A. In addition to increasing the region’s supply of student engineering and technical talent, our goals are to link UF’s engineering assets with local entrepreneurs and growing companies, and create and nurture collaborations between businesses and educational institutions. Our overarching goal is to drive economic impact in this area.

Q.Who are the players that brought Innovation Station to our region?

A. Making this happen took an 18-month effort by the Sarasota County Commission, the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. In addition to SCF, Ringling College of Art & Design, New College of Florida and Sarasota County schools were involved as were Sun Hydraulics and PGT Inc. Voalte’s CEO, Trey Lauderdale, a UF engineering graduate, persuaded UF’s engineering leadership to come check us out.

For more information, contact Allen Carlson, acarlson@eng.ufl.edu.

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