Belgium's imec to lead Osceola sensor research center, drive Tech Farm growth

Osceola County officials have confirmed that Belgian tech firm imec has signed on to lead the county's nanoelectronics design center - an announcement that could vault the county's new Florida Tech Farm into an economic development engine for Central Florida.

"Because imec has international credibility established for 30 years and a proven track record throughout the world – if you need design work done, Osceola County and Kissimmee is where you’re going to come to get it done," County Manager Don Fisher told GrowthSpotter. "Six hundred companies will be coming here that never would have come here before."

GrowthSpotter first reported July 1 that the global research firm had established an office in downtown Kissimmee in the same building shared by the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR).

Imec will move about 10 researchers to Kissimmeee this year, including Bert Gyselinckx, who currently heads the company's Holst Centre in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. 

Holst Centre is an independent R&D center that develops technologies for wireless autonomous sensor technologies and for flexible electronics, in an open innovation setting and in dedicated research trajectories. 

ICAMR CEO Chester Kennedy said the design center work can start immediately because it's done in an office setting.   

"Just eight to 10 will relocate from The Netherlands," Kennedy said. "The rest will be hired from across the world and from within the local talent pool."

He said the University of Central Florida's highly acclaimed College of Optics & Photonics was a major factor in imec's decision to choose Kissimmee for its U.S. headquarters. UCF, along with the Universities of Florida and South Florida are all "powerhouses" in developing talent that is relevant to the industry.

"Imec coming here is as much about UCF as it is about what Osceola is doing," Kennedy told GrowthSpotter. "We’re partners in this effort. Imec could have chosen any place in the world to establish a design center. They don’t just land somewhere to land somewhere. They look at what the community has to offer."

In addition to a highly skilled labor force, Osceola County is also building the $130 million  Florida Advanced Manufactoring Research Center that will anchor the county's new 500-acre Florida Tech Farm research park. 

While the design center will operate in downtown Kissimmee, imec is expected to draw industry leaders to the research park on E192. "In the tech community, the fact that imec chose this site will cause other high tech companies looking to establish a presence here," Kennedy said. "It puts us in a more favorable position to be able to attract venture capital, too."

Fisher said imec's European host cities have realized a huge return on their public investment. County Commissioners have committed $15 million over the next five years as seed money for the design center. "The model in Europe is that for every dollar they put in, they realize $5 in private investment," he said.

The design team from Perkins+Will is drafting a master plan for the research park on the former Judge Farms site. Fisher said imec's presence here will be enough of a draw that the county likely won't need to offer tax credits or other cash incentives to lure industries to the Tech Farm. 

"We offer something that has dried up in the state," he said. "We can be competitive in offering land. We’re going to be very aggressive in working with companies for the first few that come in to get them established here."

If the research parks develop as quickly as they hope, county leaders may consider expanding it across E192 onto Osceola Heritage Park, in lieu of adding more sports facilities to the park. The county is currently scouting alternative locations on the W192 tourisim corridor for its youth sports fields.

"One of our considerations is if things go like we think they could - if we start drawing down property at an accelerated pace - we could look at OHP and lands we own there," Fisher said. "We’d still keep the (Silver Spurs Arena) and exhibit hall - that compliments the research park."

Even the Osceola County Stadium could eventually be bulldozed to make room for an expanded research park. "The baseball stadium – for now, we’ll be keeping it," Fisher said. "We just signed a deal with a minor league baseball."

Imec CEO Luc Van den hov chairs the board of directors for the nonprofit IMEC USA Nanoelectionics Design Center, Inc., which will be managed locally by Gyselinckx. Under his leadership, Holst has partnered with global corporations such as BASF, Sony, Panasonic, Under Armour, CardioNet, DuPont and Philips, to name a few.

"They do contract work for consumer, medical and automotive industries," Kennedy said. "They have a lot of depth of experience and the ability to take concepts and get them mapped into devices that can be built. 

"A lot of companies can do design, but to be able to take multiple elements of that system and synthesize it down to one chip – that’s a whole set of skills," he continued. "Only a handful of companies like Apple and Intel have that skill set – we’re going to have that skill set resident in the design center, and we'll be able to funnel it into manufacturing research center." 

Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has offices in the Netherlands, Taiwan, United States, China, India and Japan. Its staff of about 2,400 people includes almost 700 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2015, imec's revenue totaled EUR 415 million (US$ 461.9 million).

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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