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Gainesville can revitalize its job market with policy changes

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Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 12:02 am

What is the city’s role in job creation?

In recent months, local news have reported on growing Gainesville businesses in the fields of Web services, software development and distance learning. Trendy Entertainment is designing cutting edge video games for mobile devices and brought attention to Gainesville at the international 2010 Consumer Electronics Show. Tutor Matching Service won the 2010 Cade Prize with its innovative approach to distance learning.

These companies and others like them are creating jobs and are part of Gainesville’s emerging business clusters. When a city gets a critical mass of companies in an area of expertise, growth of new business in that area can snowball. Online music service Grooveshark provides an example of how this is happening in Gainesville. The company created Grooveshark University with support from Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce’s Innovation Gainesville. Grooveshark University offers free instruction to entrepreneurs on creating applications for computers and smart phones. One successful company is helping to create an entire entrepreneurial ecosystem that moves ideas into jobs.

Given that this growth comes from private enterprise, what is the city’s role in job creation?

First, the city must get zoning right. Gainesville uses zoning to protect our neighborhoods – one of our most important responsibilities. If we want to create jobs, Gainesville must also make sure these rules are not an undue obstacle to business.

I worked with Shands HealthCare and other private property owners this past year to rewrite the zoning rules for the University Heights neighborhood so that Innovation Square could happen while keeping that neighborhood a great place to live.

I also spearheaded the creation of the Community Development Committee, a task force of community members well-versed in growth management. This group is working right now to develop recommendations for reform so we can allow businesses to add jobs here.

Second, the city must provide the infrastructure businesses need in order to create jobs. The city of Gainesville owns a world-class telecommunications utility, GRUCom. The city built this utility with fiber-optic cable from the ground up, a structure that makes GRUCom reliable, affordable and very fast. The new Innovation Square will have gigabit ethernet provided by GRUCom at a similar cost to much slower services offered by competing utilities.

I support growth in GRUCom because its services are absolutely essential to the software development, Web services and distance learning companies that will create jobs in Gainesville.

Of all public resources, transportation has the greatest impact on how a community grows. The city has not adequately maintained its roads, and I support increasing funding for road maintenance and improvements. Also, on many days, RTS carries more passengers than Archer Road can carry cars.

Transit ridership grew 82 percent in the last decade. Investing in transit will relieve congestion and allow access to new jobs created in Gainesville.

I am excited by Gainesville’s bright future. Job creation does not just take the private sector. Each of our institutions, entrepreneurs and our city has a role to play.

Thomas Hawkins is a Gainesville city commissioner.

Welcome to the discussion.