State gets direct in recruiting

Published December 20, 2006

After scoring this year with a bevy of research-and-development firms - think SRI International's recent decision to help develop underwater sensors at USF St. Petersburg - Florida wants to keep the good times rolling.

Enterprise Florida, the state's business recruitment agency, is embarking on its first direct-mail campaign urging R&D bigwigs to take a second look at the Sunshine State.

By the spring, Enterprise plans to ship glossy promotional literature to hundreds of national and international companies. Aside from the costs of printing the packets, Enterprise will splurge on a sophisticated mailing list so that it addresses all the right people.

"We haven't been on the radar. If you look at the top five and top 10 states, companies don't put us in that column," said Sena Black, Enterprise Florida's vice president of marketing.

"We want them to put us in that column. That is our goal."

The timing is critical. Florida took strides in 2006 to arrive on the high-tech frontier. The year started with the Burnham Institute, a medical research firm, stating its intentions to come to Orlando. Torrey Pines Institute, another bioresearch outfit from California, chimed in with plans to move its headquarters to Port St. Lucie. Then it was the Tampa Bay area's turn: California's SRI announced a partnership with the University of South Florida in November. Just this week, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center heralded a joint venture in Tampa with pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Black said those coups provide material to "tell Florida's story" in the mailings. Earlier attempts to attract research and development involved ads in trade publications like MIT Technology Review. Other channels for the pro-Florida message have been trade missions, conventions and the Internet.

Black isn't expecting instant results in her plan to solidify the state's image as an innovation hub. She views the mailings as seeds that could yield thousands of jobs down the road. Florida, known best for the Magic Kingdom, won't mimic MIT overnight.

"The more you know about Florida, I am absolutely convinced the more you're going to like us," Black said. "Knowledge is truly power."

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or 813 226-3313.