Osceola County is hoping its investment in technology will pay off, but residents are growing weary of the tax expenditure.
So far, Osceola County and the state of Florida have poured more than $160 million into a more than 50-acre campus called Bridging the Innovation Development Gap (BRIDG) where high tech sensors and microchips will be manufactured. The county hopes it can become the epicenter for high tech manufacturing in the United States.
“Think about the fact that we are trying to make things that are one one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair,” BRIDG CEO Chester Kennedy told Florida Daily as he described the work being done at the facility.
That facility has come with a major price tag, and one that continues to grow. Osceola County voters are skeptical about the $160 million already spent, roundly defeating a proposed increased sales tax for roads measure, in large part because they feel their tax dollars are being spent improperly.
That’s a topic Kennedy does not want to touch. “I try and stay out of local politics. It wasn’t my decision to make the investment. It’s my job to make the most of the investment,” he told Florida Daily.
Kennedy asked the public for patience, pointing out that the kinds of technology BRIDG will eventually crank out won’t happen overnight.
“It’s not paying somebody to come here and establish something,” he said. “It’s a homegrown piece of infrastructure that will serve as that catalyst to attract other companies to come and take advantage of the capabilities.”
One company that will do just that is Tokyo Electron (TEL). The company makes the equipment to manufacture semiconductors and flat panels. TEL has inked a deal to provide the production equipment needed for the 109,000-square-feet manufacturing facility, including approximately 60,000 square feet of cleanroom laboratory/manufacturing space at BRIDG.
“If you look at areas where semi-conductor technology has become a significant boost in the economy, you find a company that’s got a common thread there,” Kennedy said. “That company is TEL.”
Kennedy believes the timing is perfect, coming just as Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $6 million directed to BRIDG for lab equipment. While TEL will only bring three jobs to the area for now, the equipment will be state of the art and Kennedy hopes it will attract more chip makers. He brought up how Osceola County is situated between advanced tech centers with much of the vehicle automation research happening in the Tampa area, medical research happening in Lake Nona and, of course, NASA in Brevard County.
“One of the things that’s common across all of those is the need for state of the art micro-electronic devices to enable the advance of those technologies,” Kennedy said.
National security is increasingly an issue in chip manufacturing and Kennedy believes BRIDG is well-positioned as tensions with China heat up. Currently, most chips are made overseas.
“With the complexity of these devices today it is very easy to embed back doors and malicious capability inside the micro-electronics even the designers wouldn’t be able to detect until it was too late. You need to be able to fab those devices, develop then in an environment that is centered around trust,” Kennedy told Florida Daily.
The BRIDG manufacturing facility will meet U.S. Defense Department clearance and safety standards. BRIDG is set up as a non-profit so the end game will never be lining its own pockets–but by the same token, it may never stop asking for tax dollars to make BRDG work. The question is will it be the next Scripps in Palm Beach or the next Medical City in Lake Nona. Both of those high tech hubs were created with hundreds of millions of dollars in local and state incentives and, so far, the results for both have been underwhelming.
BRIDG is asking for time and, of course, more tax dollars down the line to help the project reach its potential. Its leadership thinks it will take at least 15 years to establish a beachhead in the chip-making industry. Then, they believe, spinoffs will follow.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.