Florida -- in the southern United States -- for most means sun and fun, Disney World and NASA's Cape Kennedy. It is also one of the fastest-growing centers for business and research and development in North America.
The odd shaped piece of the American geographic puzzle is Florida, the southern-most of North America's United States.
The service sector is the number one industry in Florida, fueled by 40 million annual tourists to the state. But what many of those visitors don't know is that central Florida is now a major technology center, among the fastest-growing anywhere. There is Disney, of course; besides the theme park, its film studios and animation center are among the most sophisticated in the world. Here too is defense contractor Lockheed Martin, video game leader Electronic Arts, and the University of Central Florida, in Orlando.
Joe Wallace is the Executive Director of the Central Florida Research Park, located next to the University of Central Florida. "In 1968 this university opened its doors to students. It is now approximately 44,000 students, approximately one of the top 12 universities in terms of size in the United States. In 1968 we had one technology company in Orlando, which was the Martin Marietta Company on the west side of Orlando, and of course we had the Kennedy Space Center, 30 miles [50 kilometers] to the east."
With America in the middle of the race to the moon, this was an exciting place to be.
"In 1980, the decision was made to try to bring business close to the university,” says Mr. Wallace. “We elected to form a research park in 1981. We are partnered with the university. In 1981 my organization was created. We actually purchased this land and put in the roads, the utilities, and created a research campus next to the university. This is the seventh-largest research park in the United States. We have 106 companies; approximately 10,000 employees."
And more than 3.2 million square feet [300 hectares] of office, manufacturing, and laboratory facilities. Clearly, the marriage between high tech industries and the University of Central Florida is flourishing.
Dr. Eric Van Stryland is Dean of the University of Central Florida's College of Optics and Photonics. This is the only college of photonics in the nation, and 20 percent of its research budget comes from industrial partners.
Industry and university teams are doing traffic and driver simulation studies, improving optical communications systems, and designing advanced biomedical technologies.
Dr. Yasser Hosni runs the rapid prototyping laboratory."...If you look at it you probably think it is made of wood or something, but the reality of it is that this actually made out of paper."
Disney World and Mickey Mouse may always be the number one attraction here, but some of what's going on nearby would qualify for "tomorrow land" -- except it's happening today.