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A BRIDG Not Too Far | The First Industry-Led Smart Sensor Consortium in Central Florida

By: Jack Roth

In 2012, Dave Porter was head of economic development for the Austin (Texas) Chamber of Commerce. His region was well known for SEMATECH, its semiconductor manufacturing technology consortium. Considered a “professional trifecta,” SEMATECH (research and development), the University of Texas (academic/incubator segment for workforce training and development) and the state of Texas (financial support) all made the development engine run.

In terms of its size, visibility and public policy impact, SEMATECH was the most significant private R&D consortium formed since the U.S. Congress passed the National Cooperative Research Act of 1984, granting partial antitrust exemption to registered U.S. R&D consortia.

So it was no surprise to Porter when the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission brought more than 100 business leaders and public officials to Austin on a “fact-finding” mission. It was also no surprise to Porter when, three months later, he received a phone call from a Metro Orlando EDC representative who asked him, “If we did something similar to SEMATECH around smart sensors, could it work?”

“My answer was it would take some time, and they would have to do their homework, but yes, it could definitely work,” said Porter, who, three years later, made the move to work at the Metro Orlando EDC and become part of the endeavor to make a regional smart sensor consortium a reality.

Today, he is the senior vice president of business development at the newly formed Orlando Economic Partnership. “The spark was generated on that fact-finding trip,” he explained, “but it took a lot of hard work and persistence to realize the vision.”

Taking the Initiative
One of the key players in the evolution of the consortium was Harvey Massey, chairman and CEO of Massey Services, headquartered in Orlando. After returning to Orlando and completing some basic research, he and others realized the world of sensor technology was in its infancy and would become the next major wave of technology development. From this came the concept of the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing (ICAMR), now known as BRIDG.

“I was convinced this was a unique opportunity for Central Florida to grow in the area of technology innovation and manufacturing,” said Massey. “As board members of the EDC, Charlie Gray and I were asked to handle the public/government components, which were vital to getting this off the ground.”

Gray, chairman emeritus and founding partner of GrayRobinson Attorneys at Law, was also highly impressed with what Austin had accomplished. He and Massey learned from MJ Soileau, vice president of Innovation and Commercialization for the University of Central Florida (UCF), that SEMATECH was interested in coming to Orlando to work with UCF. Apparently the two entities had worked together on several federal procurement projects and developed a mutual appreciation for each other’s talents.

“Sure enough, at MJ’s invitation, SEMATECH came to Orlando and offered to develop a semi-conductor facility in conjunction with UCF,” said Gray. “This facility would concentrate its efforts on the development of smart sensors, which we learned had a terrific market of well over a trillion dollars.”

Soileau asked Massey and Gray to co-chair the effort. Their next step was to seek out various political and private components throughout Central Florida and make presentations emphasizing that sensor technology was the next wave in the financial arena. They already had the support of the EDC. UCF was also on board thanks to its visionary president, John Hitt.

“This center holds great potential for becoming another economic game changer for our entire region,” said Hitt when asked about the project back in 2014, “and the timing for such an endeavor could hardly be better.”

Carrying the Ball
SEMATECH may have given UCF and the EDC first option to develop a next generation microchip research and manufacturing facility in Central Florida, but it came with a requirement: $200 million of local and state support was needed to pay for the land and the development of a 100,000-square-foot facility with clean rooms and cutting-edge equipment.

The project group developed a scenario requiring they raise $75 million locally and asked the state to appropriate $125 million over five years. Soileau received approval to commit $10 million from UCF’s fund generated from awards and extra activities (non-tax funds), and Randy Berridge, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor, agreed to provide funds to match corporate and institutional financial resources, the total of which would be used by professors and students to conduct applied research projects beneficial to the partners.

More Partners Needed
With most of the funding secured, all that was left was finding a local government partner for $60 million to complete the local share, but during the time it took to secure the necessary funds, SEMATECH decided to pull out and go to New York, where the governor offered $200 million.

Not willing to give up, UCF hired key people at SEMATECH who did not want to move to New York, and former Orlando EDC President and CEO Rick Weddle presented the opportunity to Osceola County. The county commissioner, Don Fisher, recommended, and the county commission voted unanimously to provide the $60 million needed for the local share, which enabled the group to go back to the state and report they had the full $75 million local share committed.

In total, Osceola County has contributed more cash and in- kind contributions of land and development requirements totaling more than $170 million.

“I’ve never seen one county put up more for any one project,” said Berridge. “Osceola’s dedication to the success of BRIDG played a large role in other partners seeing the vision and wanting to share in it. Osceola will see the greatest impact, but the ripples of research and advanced manufacturing will be felt throughout our state.”

Regional Impact
When IMEC, a Belgian nanotechnology research firm, decided to join forces with BRIDG in 2016, it put a stamp on the high level of credibility of the consortium. It has recently been reported that BRIDG, which officially opened in March, is in discussions with multiple companies, several of which could also become partners. It is also estimated the consortium will create 20,000 new high-paying jobs.

“I anticipate BRIDG will attract several world-class organizations and be the most incredible technology success story in terms of innovation and development that has ever occurred in Florida,” says Massey. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I congratulate the many people who have been involved from the beginning.”

Gray agrees. “BRIDG will be the single greatest new industry in the state, and because it’s anchored by UCF, it can’t be bought or required to move anyplace else,” he said. “It will be transformational for our region.”

Porter, who has been a part of this journey from the beginning, credits community and business leaders, who understand the value of working together and partnerships, with making this happen. “Central Florida is a ‘can-do’ region,” he said. “People bought into this vision, came together and did what was necessary. Both individuals and entities stepped up, and now the region is about to benefit from being home to a powerful and transformational consortium that will change lives for the better.”

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i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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