Building Better Communities and Tomorrow’s Workforce

By Eric Wright

It doesn’t have the aesthetic attraction of projects Skanska USA has completed like the iconic Innovation, Science and Technology building at Florida Polytechnic University, nor will it be utilized by every Central Florida resident and visitor like their work on the I-4 Ultimate project. Yet, the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, the home of ICAMR, which is now known as BRIDG (Bridging the Innovation and Development Gap), being built across from Osceola Heritage Park, may be one of the most technologically-advanced buildings in the state. In addition, it could help fuel future economic growth for Central Florida, while serving as a role model for other projects of its kind around the world.

Explaining the sophistication of the facility, Gary Weyant, one of Skanska’s senior superintendents, shared: “While we are sitting here or walking around, our body is shedding almost 100,000 particles per minute. When operational, the Class 100 clean room in this building will have less than 100 particles per cubic foot. That number rivals any NASA clean room and is way beyond a surgical unit. The building is also designed to absorb all sound and vibrations emanating from automobiles on nearby roads or airplanes overhead.”

As a global company, one of Skanska’s advantages is the depth of its talent and vast resources. As one of the largest construction companies in the world, it has personnel with extensive experience and specialized expertise that is easily shared between markets. Weyant was brought from the Pacific Northwest, home to many of the most recognizable global semiconductor and aerospace brands, because he has a lifetime of experience in building facilities that meet requirements and specification levels that defy imagination.

For Weyant, however, there was a more personal reason for his relocation to Central Florida as one of the superintendents on this project. “I heard that this facility would be a leading research center for smart sensors and developing the next generation of computer chips. My son, who is now 29 years old, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when he was young. One day, thanks to the research being conducted in centers like the one we are building here, they may be able to put a sensor in him to make his pancreas function, or help someone else who suffers from heart disease, to signal them that they may be on the verge of a heart attack or a stoke. Being a part of that kind of innovation would inspire anyone,” Weyant said enthusiastically.

Not Their First Rodeo

To many, it may seem ironic that the some of the most futuristic products and applications that science can imagine will be developed across the street from the home of Florida’s most famous rodeo, on land that was once pasture for cows. Yet the potential of this far-reaching vision was something that galvanized the civic leadership in Osceola County and enabled them to move this project forward at a remarkable pace.

Where in other communities it may have languished for years, mired in bureaucratic red tape and political haggling, the county’s huge investment is making steady progress. At the same time, by utilizing the most undeveloped land in the region, the project is positioning the countyfor a transformation on the same scale as what turned the sleepy beachfront communities of Brevard County into the “Space Coast.”     

Gilbert, Skanska’s senior vice president of operations, and Robert Utsey, senior vice president of business development, believe this research center is similar to other projects of regional impact like the UCF Downtown campus. A team comprised of SchenkelShultz Architecture, Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Skanska won the project, in large part due to their collaborative approach, experience and design creativity.

“Because of Matt and my involvement in the Orlando Economic Development Commission (on which Utsey is currently serving as board chair) and the Central Florida Partnership, we understand where these organizations are trying to take the region from a business and workforce development standpoint,” Utsey explained. “We knew the type of industries and businesses the region was trying to attract, so that when it was decided to locate the center in Osceola County, we were able to demonstrate our track record and competency in delivering a project of this magnitude and sophistication. At Skanska, our work goes beyond building a project, our goal is to elevate our community and contribute to its future economic growth.”

“We have spent a lot of time developing the relationships and delivering on expectations,” Gilbert commented. “I was involved in building Heritage Park when it opened back in 2001. Though some of the political leadership has changed, our reputation was well established. The same thing was true in the downtown project. We had been developing the relationship with UCF overtime. We put together the right team and it earned us the university’s trust to build one of its highest profile projects ever.”   

It’s high profile indeed. Thad Seymour Jr., who is well known in the area because of his involvement with Lake Nona and Medical City, is the vice provost for UCF Downtown. He was quoted as saying, “Developing a transformational downtown campus requires an innovative and collaborative design and construction team that will work closely with us to build a national model campus.” Adding, “We are confident and excited that we have found the partners who will fulfill – and even extend – our vision for what is possible at UCF Downtown.”

The design and build team will be responsible for developing the 165,000-square-foot academic building, which will be the epicenter of the new campus that UCF and Valencia College will share. The team also will renovate UCF’s existing Center for Emerging Media, which is home to several academic programs, including the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy – the No. 1-ranked graduate video game school in North America.             

Laying a Foundation for the Future

Frank Coons is another one of Skanska’s senior superintendents working on the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center project and will likely be tapped for the downtown campus when it gets underway. He commented on the important role of investing in the development of an emerging workforce. We are mentoring a number of skilled technicians and subcontractors in how to build innovative and unique facilities such as this one in Osceola County, which is an expertise that we need for this area  to grow as a smart sensor manufacturing hub. It is a training process that we are engaged in all of the time with all of our subcontractors.”

“The whole region is benefiting, not only from what will be produced in and around this facility in the future, but the construction expertise that is being developed,” Utsey added. “This adds a skill set and core competency to the area’s workforce that attracts other industry experts like Belgium’s IMEC.”

IMEC, formerly the InterUniversity MicroElectronics Center, was one of BRIDG’s first major wins. It is one of the world’s leaders in research and development of sensors that perform tasks that a few years ago would have seemed like science fiction, such as sensors that help detect cancer or analyze pollution in water. The consortium, headquartered in the Netherlands, has a global reputation, having partnered with companies like Sony, Hitachi and DuPont, while also spinning off nearly 30 cutting edge technology companies. IMEC considered locations across the country for its American base before choosing the Osceola county facility.

To Gilbert and Utsey, Skanska is not just building a facility, the company is building a culture within Skanska and in the region’s workforce that lays a foundation for a host of innovative projects in the future.

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About the author

Eric Wright

Eric Wright is an innovative leader, dynamic speaker and published author. He turns complex principles into simple and practical life applications. As President of Publishing at SCB Marketing, Eric oversees the production of four business and lifestyle journals, along with numerous specialty publications. Eric is co-author of Dogs Don't Bark at Parked Cars. www.dogsdontbark.com

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