“Could we put all our resources together for the common good?”
This was one of the questions that Dr. Jackson Sasser said sparked the concept for Innovation Gainesville. The Santa Fe College president opened up Thursday’s iG Regional Economic Forum by speaking about the need to continue to develop the initiative. “Never, ever are we content,” he said. “It is time to take iG to the next level.”
Both Amy Holloway, president of Avalanche Consulting, and Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, spoke at the forum.
Holloway presented research that Avalanche has been working to collect in the last six months.
The firm began with a baseline analysis and has since moved on to assessing higher education assets. In working with FloridaWorks, Santa Fe College and the University of Florida, the company is mapping out areas to highlight and utilize as they develop specific tactics for iG later this year.
Holloway pointed to several areas where Gainesville can improve to be more competitive nationally, but the main one was talent retention and recruitment.
She explained that Gainesville’s 15-to-29-year-old age range is above average nationally, but our 30-to-60-year-old range is low. This becomes problematic when companies are looking to fill management or other positions that need ten or more years of experience. Therefore, Holloway said, we need to hone in on keeping our talent here in the area.
As we move in a strategic direction, Holloway answered the question, “How can we position the region to capitalize on its assets?”
She offered several recommendations that will be further developed as Avalanche works with the Gainesville community to design a strategy. First, she said to continue innovating. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” she said.
Second, Holloway said to adopt a balanced approach. She likened this to a three-legged stool. One leg is “growing our own,” i.e. fostering the creation of companies in Gainesville; the second leg is “retaining and expanding,” i.e. helping our current businesses succeed; the third leg is “recruiting,” i.e. attracting new companies to our area. When we find this three-way intersection, she said, we’ll have a balanced approach that allows Gainesville to become the best version it can be.
Holloway next hit on the need for our area to act as a region, not just a city or county. Holloway emphasized the need to seek out partnerships and collaborations that can come from surrounding areas.
Fourth, she discussed targets. “Make them hyper specific to stand out,” she said. Rather than saying you’re targeting the tech industry, define the specific sector you want to bring here, Holloway said. By doing so we’ll increase our chances of growing exactly how we want to.
Holloway also discussed the importance of collision, which she cited as a “buzzword.” Collisions between federal and state, private and public interests “create a healthy, competitive economy” because the unnatural partnership between seemingly unlike industries can sometimes produce amazing, transformational results (as was the case in one community where architects were enlisted to help map out where there were food deserts).
Talent alignment seems like an obvious step, Holloway said, but many cities miss the boat. By aligning K-12 programming with target skills needs for the area, we aid in retention and preparedness of the next generation.
Last, Holloway said to improve communication. “Tell the Gainesville story,” she said. Both internally and externally, the area needs to focus on communicating strategically.