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FAMU-FSU leaders meet with local execs to discuss establishing hub in Jax

The joint engineering school for Florida A&M and Florida State universities is

considering establishing a presence in Jacksonville, with school officials meeting

with industry leaders this week to discuss the concept.

That includes conversations with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jax

Chamber and representatives from local engineering and construction companies,

with meetings held between FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Dean Suvranu De

and local leaders Monday and Tuesday.

The innovation center being discussed would pursue millions of dollars in federal

grants and would look to be a regional collaboration rather than a branch of the

school, according to participants in the conversation.

According to an invitation for the event reviewed by the Business Journal, the idea

is to create a science, technology, engineering and math hub, with the area's

universities being involved. The Business Journal received the invitation in

response to a public records request to the city.

"The purpose of the STEM hub is to pull together public, private, and academia and

establish Jacksonville as a regional center of excellence for engineering, science,

technology, and mathematics," the invitation said. "The STEM Hub should create

innovation, intellectual property, and start-up companies. As part of the initiative we are asking every local university to participate and FSU + FAMU are looking to

establish a presence in Jax."

A representative from Florida State confirmed that the meetings took place but

declined to discuss them in detail.

The conversation comes as the two universities look to expand the reach of their

combined engineering school, which brings together the historically black

university and a Tier 1 research university.

Last month, FSU received a $98.4 million Triumph Gulf Coast grant for a project

called the Institution for Strategic Partnerships, Innovation, Research, and

Education, or InSPIRE in Panama City, where it has a campus. That program is

looking to build two buildings that will be a hub for aerospace and advanced

manufacturing research and development.

Having a STEM hub in Jacksonville would create an innovation corridor stretching

across the top of the state, said Chang Industrial principal Matthew Chang, who

helped organize this week's conversations. The hub would be positioned to go after

a U.S. National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engine grant, he said,

which are designed to fund partnerships between academia and industry working

on innovation.

"This is a community initiative to lift up all of our groups," Chang said about the

plan. "That includes K-12, community college, the institutions of higher learning —

but it also includes startups, large companies and governmental bodies."

The hub would function as a public-private partnership, bringing in local

universities, companies and public agencies, said Greer Johnson Gillis, JTA's chief

infrastructure and development officer, who took part in the conversation.

"That's in harmony around what we're trying to do with innovation," she said. "It

synergies with our growth plan."

The conversation is in its early days, with logistics for any sort of facility still being

nailed down, participants said. Expectations are that local companies would be

asked to contribute funds, as would the city and state.

The conversation comes as conversations continue to take place about the

University of Florida establishing a graduate campus in Jacksonville.

That plan has received some $187.5 million in donations and government funding,

including $75 million from the state included in the 2023-2024 budget, and $50

million from the city, with $20 million of that coming in the current fiscal year.

Private donations for the UF project add up to $62.5 million, including $10 million

from CSX Corp. and $5 million pledged by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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