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County luring in UCF research center

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
It will take a collaborative, community effort for Osceola County to become an epicenter for the sensor research industry before the end of the decade.
CountyThat was the message at a breakfast event Tuesday at Osceola Heritage Park put on by the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. It brought industry partners together who will work toward bringing a University of Central Florida research facility to the area.
In June, county leaders approved a plan to partner with UCF and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council to build a research facility that will aid in the creation of universal smart sensors. Those sensors would eventually power 50 billion devices by 2020, industry leaders said Tuesday.
The Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center would be located on the Judge Farms property south of U.S. Highway 192 across from Osceola Heritage Park.
The county is providing 20 acres to build 100,000 square feet of space for the research site, and $61 million toward its design and construction, including making the land ready for development. The project will work around a 200-acre pond that the Toho Water Authority plans to build to treat stormwater runoff that drains into Lake Tohopekaliga. The Judge Farms land, acquired by the county in 2012, still would have space available for other commercial development.
County Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins sat on a panel at Tuesday’s investor gathering and said the project gives Osceola County a chance to diversify its economic base.
“The County Commission worked on many ideas for this property.  You pray for things like this to come along. We’re spending $61 million to bring these jobs here, and for the opportunity to put Osceola County on the map,” he said.
“With our economy being so agriculture-driven, and then later tourism-driven, it made sense to look for ways to diversify ourselves. This technology will take us into the future. Our school system has a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program, and we’ve seen the impact that Medical City has had on the area with new housing and development. We want to go pie-in-the-sky with this because if you don’t swing, you’ll miss 100 percent of the time. This is one step to adding value and high-paying jobs to the area.”
M.J. Soileau, UCF vice president for research and commercialization, said the area around the facility would be developed. The research facility itself at total build-out would employ 250 people.
“The inside will house the latest tools for research and manufacturing. Around it, thousands of people in related industries will create a complete supply chain,” he said. “Suppliers will want to be near the facility as it becomes the hub for high-tech companies.
“When (UCF President) John Hitt proposed Medical City, people said it would never happen. It did, and this impact could be better than that.”
Dan Holladay, who represented the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research, helped bring semiconductor manufacturing to Austin, Texas within the last decade. He said the benefits of the industry to the area became apparent in
three years.
Soileau, an optics professor, said the science industry partners working on this will spend the foreseeable future engaging the industry about the new research center, and he implored those with ties to Tallahassee and Washington to do the same.
“I ask you to work with lawmakers you know and let them know how important this project is to the state,” he said.
According to Holladay, smart sensors will eventually be able to give enhanced feedback to one another. The iPhone 6, set to debut later this year, will include the technology to trigger medical applications using photos and biophysical input like body temperature and heart rate.
Officials with Osceola County said construction could begin on the facility in summer of 2015.