Florida Poly - Applied Research Center rendering

The Applied Research Center will be the second academic building on the campus of Florida Polytechnic University.

POLK COUNTY – According to a report recently prepared for the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees by Dr. Rick Harper, of Economic Consulting Services, the university has a $289 million annual impact on the state and local economy.

“The overall impact of Florida Poly to the region is seen in the hiring done and incomes paid to faculty and staff, in the construction of its buildings and physical plant, and in the spending done by students,” Harper said. “Most important, however, is the increased income earning potential that accrues to its graduates and in the research potential embodied in the skills of faculty, staff, and students.”

During the 2018-19 fiscal year, Harper said that, in addition to the $289 million in overall sales, the university generated around 2,350 local jobs and generated around $38 million in additional federal, state and local tax income.

According to Harper and Florida Poly President Dr. Randy Avent, the university’s impact on the local economy may become even more pronounced in the future.

The current strategic plan for the university board calls for capitalizing on its location along the Interstate 4 corridor by creating a high-tech economy around Florida Poly over the next few decades.

Avent said he is expecting tech industry leaders to create more jobs surrounding Florida Poly facilities, not only to be closer to the SunTrax facility, the Applied Research Center and the newly created Advanced Mobility Institute — but to the students graduating from the university annually.

University staff have already built relationships with 301 industry partners, with some 234 of them serving as career collaborators who hire interns or graduates, participate in career recruitment events or sponsor senior capstone projects. Avent said Florida needs around 80,000 more high tech qualified employees and that employers seeking them want to be close to the university to increase chances of hiring its graduates.

Elected officials within Polk County are also seeking partnerships with the university.

At a Sept. 11 university board of trustees meeting, Strategic Planning Committee Chair Mark Bostick reviewed a request from the Polk County Board of County Commissioners to be a partner on a proposed Research Development Authority. The authority, if established as planned by the county commission, would serve as the entity that would lead development of a research park on land surrounding Florida Poly, according to university board minutes.

Avent said that according to Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate Managing Partner and Senior Advisor Gary Ralston, there are around 6,000 acres of prime, available real estate surrounding Florida Poly that could be used to build a new community surrounding a brand new tech-focused business park. He additionally said he has already been contacted by enough business leaders to fill up a portion of the proposed business park and that there is ongoing talk to build a new three-story building on campus that would include a new convention center.

Ultimately, Avent said he envisions Florida Poly to be similar to Massachusetts Institute of Technology — commonly referred to as MIT — in being a relatively small university with a huge impact on the local economy.

While the economic impact of Florida Poly is already worth taking note of, Avent said it's not the only headline news coming out of the university. Avent said the tuition at Florida Poly is the second lowest tuition of any state university in the country and the lowest tuition of all the Florida state universities.

He said he was proud that most Florida Poly students graduate with little student debt due to low tuition costs and generous scholarships.

“To me, I think that can be the headline of your story,” Avent said. “We have the biggest return on investment, by far.”

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Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.

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