The U.S. state of Florida is a serious challenger for pre-eminence in life sciences and technology industries. Collectively, state and local entities have committed more than U.S.$1 billion to attracting research and development institutes to Florida. The state’s economic development office is vetting several applications for this year’s available funds of U.S.$250 million.

In 2003, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush set out to transform Florida’s economy by convincing the Florida legislature to invest U.S.$310 million to attract The Scripps Research Institute. Palm Beach County committed more than U.S.$200 million to build a facility that, when completed in 2009, will house more than 500 scientists and staff.

Building on this success, Florida created the Innovation Incentive Program to attract innovation business projects and high-value research and development. Qualifying entities include those engaged in basic and applied research in sciences or engineering, as well as the design, development and testing of prototypes or processes of new and improved products.

Both for-profit and not-for-profit entities may apply. Minimum qualifications differ, depending on whether the applicant is an innovation business or a research and development facility as defined in the enabling law. The funds are available regardless of whether the business is based outside the United States.

An innovation business means a business “that is likely to serve as a catalyst for the growth of an existing or emerging technology cluster, or will significantly impact the regional economy in which it is to expand or locate”. An innovation business project must do the following:

  • Create 1,000 new direct jobs, or 500 new jobs if it locates in a designated brownfield, enterprise zone or rural area
  • Have an activity or a sector that is among those targeted by the state (e.g., biotech, aerospace, corporate headquarters or high-tech)
  • Have a cumulative investment (by the business) of at least U.S.$500 million within a five-year period, or exceeding U.S.$250 million within a 10-year period if in a designated brownfield, rural area or enterprise zone 
  • Be provided with a one-to-one match from the local community, either in U.S. dollars or donations in kind

A research and development facility means “a facility that is predominately engaged in research and development activities”. To qualify, a research and development facility must do the following:

  • Serve as a catalyst for an emerging or evolving technology cluster
  • Demonstrate a plan for significant higher education collaboration
  • Provide the state, at a minimum, with a break even return on investment within a 20-year period (measured in terms of taxes generated)
  • Be provided with a one-to-one match from the local community (either in U.S. dollars or in kind)

In either case, the jobs created must pay an estimated annual wage (excluding benefits) equal to at least 130 per cent of the average private sector wage in the state or the county where it will be located. This requirement may be waived for a business locating in a designated brownfield, rural or enterprise zone.

Funding decisions for the 2008-2009 budget began in December 2007, when the state’s governor started to prepare budget recommendations to the legislature. The legislature will decide on funding levels during its 60-day legislative session, which begins on 4 March 2008. Businesses interested in obtaining funding can still apply to Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, at any time. Although applications are already in the queue for the current year’s appropriation, businesses that submit an application and identify local matching funds now will have an advantage for the 2008-2009 process and will also inform budget decision-makers that there is demand for the programme.