This interview is part of an FAS series on释放区域创新where we talk to leaders building the next wave of innovative clusters andecosystemsin communities across the United States. We aim to spotlight their work and help other communities learn by example. Our first round of interviews are with finalists of theBuild Back Better Regional Challengerun by the Economic Development Administration as part of the American Rescue Plan.
BRIDG is not-for-profit public-private partnership located in Osceola County, Florida providing semiconductor R&D and production capabilities to industry and government, enabled by a versatile 200mm microelectronics fabrication facility (or ‘fab’). As the anchor tenant of an emerging 500-acre technology district known as NeoCity, BRIDG operates the fab with a focus onheterogeneous integration和advanced packaging过程技术和安全制造方法的开发leveraging digital twins和other Industry 4.0 concepts.
Supported by Osceola County,Florida High Tech Corridor Council,imec,SkyWater Technology(Center for Neovation operator)和others, BRIDG connects challenges and opportunities with solutions. They are “Bridging the Innovation Development Gap” (BRIDG) making commercialization possible. Their coalition, led byOsceola County Board of Commissioners, won $50.8 million in September, 2022 as part of the challenge.
吉姆·范德维（Jim Vandevere）: Historically, Osceola County has been a region known for its strength in the services and agriculture industry. You either work in theme parks, restaurants, or farming— such as on a cattle ranch or something like that. During 2008, and more recently during COVID, there was a down-tick in the market where things changed, and people didn’t travel much. Osceola County specifically ranked about second in the country in unemployment. They recognized the importance of having a diversified portfolio for people to work in and wanted to add a third leg to the revenue stool, which is basically a technology component that survives downturns in markets.
Osceola County looked at what innovative technologies were being conducted within Florida’s universities (University of Central Florida, University of Florida, University of South Florida) that can be leveraged, and along with leadership from the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Orlando Economic Partnership, felt that the semiconductor industry was an area where Florida, and particularly Osceola County in Central Florida, can truly make an impact on a national scale. After a few years, SkyWater Technologies also became involved in the regional efforts. So, for nearly the past decade, the group has been working closely together and eventually formed a coalition to grow an ecosystem on a 540-acre plot of land owned by Osceola County called NeoCity. Since the start of the economic diversification initiative, the county has invested approximately $270 million dollars to build a 200mm microelectronics fabrication facility (or ‘fab’), built a STEM-based high school, and added a Class A office complex onsite. With local and state funding, along with collaborations from industry partners such as TEL and SUSS Microtec, BRIDG was able to add tools to operate the fab as you see it today. Our cluster has been meeting twice a week since before the Build Back Better Regional Challenge was even a thing. We’ve been interacting for a long time.
There’s a real sense of community here. Not just within Osceola County, but along the entire Florida high tech corridor from the Space Coast to Tampa—everybody’s interested and invested (whether directly or indirectly) in the success of this environment and the NeoCity campus.
The idea for NeoCity started in 2012 after a “best practice” regional leadership mission to Texas and discussions around the importance of the semiconductor industry. There were other people at the table. Everybody had an opinion. The difficult question was, “How do you fit $278 million into your budget to make this program work in Central Florida?” Osceola County’s response was, “We can make this happen. We’re the fastest growing county in the state of Florida.” They decided to take a big leap of faith with some sound financial planning, knowing that it could deliver huge dividends and a huge tax base with employees. Most semiconductor fabs average between 300 and 1000 people or 5000 people depending on size. And these people—ranging from PhDs to high school graduates—make a whole different level of income. In fact, the high school graduates are making significantly more than the average salary of someone working in agriculture or hospitality.
From a high school graduation point of view and continuing education into college or higher ed, Osceola County had ranked 61st out of 67 school districts in the state of Florida. Many students weren’t moving on to college. So, the county implemented a program two years ago to fund high school seniors from Osceola County to attend Valencia College. They paid for school—strategic workforce development stuff—and now they’ve moved up to 17th in a short window of time. That’s a huge jump!
As soon as we made the decision to move toward semiconductors, we understood that it takes a different level of student. It takes a STEM student, somebody who’s interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. At the time, the county didn’t have that niche focus within their existing high school system. So, they proactively built a STEM-focused, project-based high school next door to the office complex at NeoCity (NeoCity Academy). That STEM high school started four years ago andgraduated its first class last year in May. Nearly 100% of the students in that graduating class went on to colleges all over the country. It’s a serious testament to the academic excellence they achieved.
Osceola County had the planning and the foresight to ask, “How do we get our students more involved from the beginning?” This went all the way down to science fairs in middle schools and even science awareness outreach in elementary schools. We actively engage and support science fairs in Osceola County that target these students to get kids and parents to understand the technology that we’re developing. SkyWater, BRIDG, NeoCity Academy, Osceola County, the Florida High Tech Corridor, and imec are all actively involved in support of education in this community.
So, we’ve talked about a couple of different groups involved. We’ve talked about education. We’ve talked about the role of the county. But how does the coalition approach working with other stakeholders?
Of the research institutions you mentioned: I know one of the key projects in your Build Back Better proposal is working with UCF on creating digital twins of the facility. Could you talk about what motivated that and why you thought that that was an important project?
这绝对是一个重要的项目。空气不得已伸出e funded secure digital twins for DoD applications to virtually show the pipeline of activities from design all the way through to where the product winds up—showing sourcing components to fab processing, all the fab machines and everything like that and all the decision points. It’s basically taking snapshots to understand design attributes, metrology testing, inspections, etc. all the way into final test assembly and then out to the end use product.
Taking a step back from the projects that you’re working on and going back to how you originally came up with the plan for the Build Back Better grant, I would love to know who actually did the work to write this Build Back Better Regional Challenge application. Who took the lead and how did you decide that they would take the lead? Was it natural or did it come about from a consensus process?
It came about from a consensus process. The detailed technical information came mostly from BRIDG and the overarching documentation came from a grant writing group and Osceola County staff. This direction and the knowledge of how to submit this grant was very important.
The overall vision of how we present ourselves came from our normal meetings with the county manager, the team, and me. The creation of the grant was a complete team effort. Honest, straightforward questions, challenges, and feedback came up amongst the coalition group while we developed this. We learned a lot more about each other and how every individual group does business. We went through six months of hard grinding to get that grant to be representative of the coalition.
这听起来像是配方要求不仅深technical expertise, but also an open and collaborative group working on it. And then a clear vision that tied all of the disparate parts together. Are those the main ingredients?
Yes, and I would add understanding and knowledge of grant writing and what the reviewers are looking for.
Even the best teams have disagreements sometimes. Are there any moments where your coalition had different ideas about what the vision for the future was? And how did you reconcile those situations?
As a kid, my father told me there’s no ‘I’ in team. We win together, we lose together. But there are always ‘me’ people in a group. Getting those dynamics out of the way when you first start is important. The best part about our group is that we have a common vision of making NeoCity work. That was the underlying tone. Their ideas were maybe not like yours or anybody else’s, but everybody’s heart was in the right place. The challenge was how you communicate to get everybody to understand your idea. That is why our coalition is successful. We’re not afraid to have honest conversations and disagreements, but we work through it.
How will Osceola County look different in 10 years if you’re successful and doing what you all proposed? What does it look like for the class of 2033 coming out of NeoCity Academy or for the families who can rely on working in the fab or someplace adjacent?
In 10 years…I think the opportunity for NeoCity is like in many places across the United States. Today is when you’re going to see the most funding ever. You’re not going to see this again, probably, for another decade. However, I would say that there is nothing stopping the growth of NeoCity as long as we execute the way we’ve been executing and hold true to our vision. I will say 10 years from now, we will have successfully created the Design Center of Excellence to attract more companies, in addition to the ones you see here today. You will probably see seven or eight more companies in a group that support leapfrog advanced studies and work on that as a collaborative effort.
此外，我们为包括当地社区大学系统在内的劳动力发展投入了巨大资金。我们的目标是提高STEM功能，并提供支持Osceola县的设备，信息和更好的工具。我们希望继续获得Osceola县礼物的支持，该礼物为过去两年中毕业于Osceola县系统的每个高中生提供了瓦伦西亚大学的教育。我们可以补充它，并创建一个更强大的途径，不仅可以将学生与现有的瓦伦西亚大学环境联系起来，还可以与佛罗里达州的所有大学联系起来。目标是提升整个状态。现在，半导体行业的人员配备很艰难 - 每个人都在全国范围内抱怨它。他们无法获得劳动力。在佛罗里达，我们控制自己的命运。这就是我希望在十年内看到的。
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