Sunny Forecast for Florida's High-Tech Businesses
The Sunshine State has long been a magnet for tourists and retirees. But, touting Florida as the "Innovation Hub of the Americas," economic development group Enterprise Florida Inc. (Orlando, FL) has been laboring in recent years to attract a completely different population: the life sciences industry.
And it seems to be working. As of 2007, Florida ranked second in the United States in terms of FDA-registered medical device facilities and employed more than 20,000 people at close to 400 medical device companies. Although the 400 companies span various market segments, minimally invasive surgery, diagnostic imaging, disposables, orthopedic and cardiac implants, and sterilization equipment are considered to be among Florida's 'areas of excellence,' according to Enterprise Florida. Furthermore, between 2002 and 2007 alone, Floridian surgical and medical instrument manufacturers obtained 1221 patents; 493 additional patents were issued for medical equipment during that period.
The majority of life sciences activity is concentrated in several clusters throughout the state, most notably in hubs located in Central Florida's High-Tech Corridor, the Jacksonville area, and Southeast Florida. And at the core of these medtech hubs are such medical device manufacturers as Baxter Healthcare (Largo, FL), Boston Scientific (Miami, FL), Cordis Corp. (Miami Lakes, FL), and Medtronic ENT (Jacksonville, FL), in addition to a slew of smaller companies. In turn, supporting these device OEMs are a network of suppliers, the Florida Medical Manufacturers' Consortium (Tallahassee, FL) and 40 colleges and universities where R&D and innovation flourish.
In addition to accommodating and inspiring innovative research, these institutions of higher learning help to cultivate a knowledgeable and enthusiastic workforce for Florida's future. Such support is exemplified by the establishment of the Virtual Manufacturing and Design Laboratory for Medical Devices at the University of South Florida (USF; Tampa, FL). Here, aspiring medical device engineers gain hands-on training in medical device design and manufacturing using the facility's CNC proLight 3000 turning center, CNC eXpertMill VMC-0600 milling center, Scorbot-ER 4u training robot, Dimension sst 768 rapid prototyping machine, and the ZPrinter 450 3-D printer, in addition to a host of software platforms, including SolidWorks. Undergraduate students taking the Manufacturing Processes course were recently even put to a real-world test with the goal of designing, implementing, and fabricating a prototype of a medical device for minimally invasive surgery that solved a problem described by a doctor at USF's College of Medicine.
An available skilled workforce and ample state funding for research are motivators to set up shop in Florida. But perhaps the best incentives of all are the tax incentives--they're hard to beat. Florida boasts no personal income tax and a relatively low corporate income tax rate of 5.5%. Furthermore, the state does not have sales tax on R&D equipment, state-level property tax, sales and use tax on goods made in Florida for export outside of the state, and tax on purchase of raw materials incorporated into an end product for resale.