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It’s a Wonderful Alachua County…

Our incubators make this story a classic all year long

A theatre marquee reads “Hot dog! It’s a Wonderful Life” and the dates and times when it will appear there.
Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

The 1946 movie “ It’s a Wonderful Life,” directed by Frank Capra, is now established as a Christmas holiday classic. The film stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up one dream after another to help those he loves.

He inherits his father’s Building and Loan, which provides affordable housing in Bailey Park, but runs into financial difficulties and possible scandal when his uncle loses a lot of money for a bank deposit. Figuring he is worth more dead than alive, on Christmas Eve George contemplates suicide and wishes he’d never been born.

The concerned prayers of his family and friends prompt God’s intervention in the form of a guardian angel, Clarence. George’s wish is also granted, and the angel takes on the role of showing how different life would be for his family and his community if he had never been born.

The movie depicts different time periods in George’s life in which his decisions then would impact lives far in the future, such that the main character determines he wants to live. It’s not a selfish wish. As the angel Clarence said in the movie:

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

Clarence, “It’s a Wonderful Life”

My subject today may seem self-serving, but, really, I want to play the role of Clarence and simply point out how the incubators I direct at the University of Florida touch lives in my community.

Let me show you the money

My goal, of course, is that you, like George, will appreciate the way “each man’s life touches so many other lives.” Except I want you to see how your incubator’s life (or your startup’s life or your role) touches so many others — wherever you are.

When I consider the two incubators I manage — UF Innovate’s Sid Martin Biotech in Alachua and The Hub in Gainesville, I think my community is somewhat blind to the good that these incubators do. No one seems to understand what they do, what function they serve, or what they do for Alachua County.

So, let’s remove them from the equation. Let’s do “It’s a Wonderful Alachua County” or “It’s a Wonderful Gainesville” and take a look at what this area would be without both of these programs.

First, let’s take away the over $11 billion in investment capital, revenues and merger and acquisition funding brought into Alachua County by both programs over the past 25 years. (In fact, both incubators have brought in nearly 3/4 of that amount — over $8B — in the past 7 years alone). That’s right, BILLIONS.

That’s money spent in the local economy, some paid in taxes pulled into the Alachua County coffers, and much of it spent on business growth (including new jobs that promote eating in local restaurants, buying local homes, purchasing automobiles, etc.). Compare that to the ENTIRE gross domestic product in Alachua County. (Data is available for 2001–2018 from the Federal Reserve Bank Economic Data, FRED database.)

To compare apples to apples, let’s take the Alachua County GDP from 2011–2018. That number (total) is $97,343,914,000 — essentially $97 billion.

That means, over those 7 years, at least 8.3% of the entire county’s GDP was brought in by both incubators. However — in our “It’s a Wonderful Life” scenario — that money is gone. Just as George Bailey saw a vision of what the world would be if he were not in it, we’re looking at an Alachua County without UF business incubators. Not as pretty of a picture, eh? In my humble opinion, the incubators have made a difference.

Let me show you the jobs

Next, let’s look at the “wonderful jobs.” Yup. That’s what incubators do. They help startup companies grow and add jobs — mostly high-tech jobs. In fact, we can trace over 7,900 jobs back to the startups that have gone through both incubator programs.

No, that’s not equal to a large automobile plant or to some major Fortune 500 company moving their headquarters here, but when did those events happen? They didn’t. The county is not a haven for Fortune 500 Company headquarters, but the jobs created (the majority of them) by both incubators stayed in Florida. Actually, many stayed in the county and added to the economy.

As they say with vegetables, “there’s nothing quite like home-grown.” That goes for companies (and jobs), too!

But, wait, there’s more!

What else? Well, consider the attraction and retention of companies to this area from elsewhere.

Both incubators have companies from out of town, out of state, and out of the country. We have founders and companies from Russia, from Brazil, from Europe, from a lot of different places. We have companies from around the state who have relocated here to take advantage of wet lab space, access to FLORIDA faculty, staff and students, and to join a vibrant, active ecosystem.

Bringing in companies from elsewhere not only adds jobs to the region; it adds reputation, further attracting still other companies from those same countries/areas.

Without the incubators, would those companies have even known about Alachua County? Maybe. But maybe not. Certainly, the incubators have enhanced Alachua County’s international outreach.

And what about talent retention? If not for the jobs and facilities and environment provided by the incubators, the region would have lost management talent, subject matter expertise talent, and talent engaged in civic progress.

Talent follows other talent. Building a critical mass of quality leaders and quality professionals is what the incubator programs are all about. The incubators grow companies, and promote eventual placement in space built by local, regional and national developers.

Placing growth companies in the area promotes tax revenues and job growth, and it makes the overall attraction efforts of the county or region appeal to other companies considering relocation. Without them, critical jobs are missing and an incalculable amount of civic pride is absent. It’s not such a wonderful economic life without the talent brought in by both incubators.

So what does this mean for you?

So, is it Gainesville and Alachua County you see — or do you see “Pottersville”? (You’ll have to watch the movie if you don’t know what I mean.) At the end of the movie, George decides his life has meaning and begs to live again. He does. He returns home to find that the town has joined together to collect money to save George’s business, which will continue to help the town.

Fortunately for Gainesville and Alachua County, the incubators are here — and are growing, expanding, and helping set the future of Alachua County on a solid foundation. (And you don’t need to take a collection to keep us going.)

It really is a wonderful life of economic development — and the UF incubators help maintain that, along with plenty of assistance from so many others! Let’s keep it that way, with a common theme of economic advancement, and an attitude of cooperation.

After all, we love happy endings!

For those of you running your own incubators, do the math. Are the lives of your startups and growth companies touching others and making a difference? Would their absence, would your absence leave an awful hole? I hope so.

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on May 27, 2020.

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UF Innovate connects innovators with entrepreneurs, investors and industry; incubates startups and growth companies; and fosters a resilient innovation ecosystem — all in an effort to make the world a better place.

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UF Innovate

UF Innovate

Tech Licensing, Ventures, Pathways, and Accelerate, which includes two business incubators, The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. We build business on innovation.

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