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U.S. must create 21M jobs by 2020; Tampa Bay innovators are doing their part

The United States faces a daunting challenge in creating jobs: At current rates, it will take until 2016 to replace the 7 million of them lost during the 2008-09 recession. To regain full employment — finding work for the unemployed and accommodating the 15 million Americans expected to enter the labor force this decade — the U.S. economy must create 21 million jobs by 2020.

— McKinsey Global Institute report: An economy that works: Job creation and America's future

• • •

The longer I write about business for the Petersburg Times, the more I spend time prowling this Florida region visiting big and small companies, economic development groups, universities and schools, well-intentioned but often-numbing meetings, rubber chicken lunches, job fairs and even some lonely inventors.

What am I looking for?

People and places that seem to have the "right stuff" in creating jobs in these tough economic times. I'm hunting for fresh ideas about how to shift our regional economy from today's Zzzz to a bit more Zoom. I'm looking and listening for sources of outrageous enthusiasm, boundless energy and contrarian savvy. I even seek some "Damn the torpedoes"-style leadership — because we're going nowhere if somebody somewhere around here is not willing to take some business risks.

It will take all of that and more to jump-start more — and better — jobs in the coming years. That McKinsey comment above — this country needing 21 million jobs by 2020 to regain full employment — is daunting. It's not an impossible nine-year dream by any means. But it will mean investing today in some good, fundamental stuff that should produce more jobs, and more of the kinds of employment we say we want for the next generation here.

Sitting around waiting for a comeback of the same Florida-as-usual economy we've seen flushed down the toilet in the past five years is a fool's errand. It has become pop business culture to lament that the United States has lost its edge to innovate or that our public schools churn out too many young adults who can't think critically, can barely read and boast very few skills that fit with today's new job demands.

Well, it's time to push back. Across the Tampa Bay area, there are more promising signs of innovation than you think.

I see it in this past week's news that the University of South Florida ranks ninth among universities worldwide for the number of its patents (83 — more than that if you count joint patents with Moffitt Cancer Center and other partners). Patents are a good barometer of innovation.

I hear it in the excitement generated by Dr. Jonathan Ellen, St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital physician in chief and vice dean and pediatrics professor at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) School of Medicine, who told a business crowd Thursday that collaborative medical, research and educational possibilities of the two new hospital partners is startling.

I see it in the introduction of the new way of teaching math — called SunBay Digital Math — at some Pinellas County schools that already is producing impressive student performance gains in a surprisingly short time. Digital Math comes to us courtesy of hotshot researchers SRI International — SRI was recruited to expand to St. Petersburg in late 2009 — and, with some timely support from the local business community, may prove revolutionary.

And I see it in the start of the Gazelle Lab, a "business accelerator" just getting under way via USF St. Petersburg's College of Business to encourage, mentor and propagate promising local business startups.story above.)

The McKinsey report on this country's jobs future is worrisome. By 2020, it warns, there will be up to 1.5 million too few college graduates to meet demand, but 5.9 million more Americans without high school diplomas than employers can use.

Still, look around. There's more Zoom in Tampa Bay than you might imagine. It's the kind of investing that will help put us back on track to more and higher-paying jobs.

It had better.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

How Gazelle Lab may help bring grass roots job growth

Wanted: Ten teams of hungry entrepreneurs with good business ideas and serious passion to start a business. In exchange, we'll provide personal mentoring from business executives, free assistance from college business students, small-business software, fundraising tips and other services all rolled up in a free, three-month program called Gazelle Lab. Inquire at gazellelab.com or the University of South Florida St. Petersburg College of Business. Applications are due July 11. Program starts Aug. 15. And Demo Day (show folks what your startup is all about and maybe get some funding) is Nov. 17.

• • •

On Tuesday, a packed room listened to a USF St. Pete team of business professors and entrepreneurs pitch Gazelle Lab as a new tool for supporting area entrepreneurs in their quest to start and sustain local businesses.

Gazelle Lab is the brainchild of Daniel James Scott, who arrived last summer at USF to help teach in the business school's new entrepreneur major. The concept started in Boulder, Colo., as a three-month intensive program to help a select handful of local business startups. Under the name TechStars, the program has expanded to several other markets, with St. Petersburg its latest addition.

As part of TechStars, Gazelle Lab is called a business accelerator, not to be confused with a business incubator that provides physical space to startups.

In addition to Scott, the Gazelle Lab team includes Brent Britton (a Gray Robinson lawyer in Tampa with an extensive startup history in Boston and California's Silicon Valley), Bill Jackson (professor for entrepreneurship & innovation at USF), John Morrow (USF's entrepreneur in residence) and Marvin Scaff (software entrepreneur with 12 patents in the past three years).

Why Gazelle? It defines cream-of-the-crop startup companies that grow fast (like a leaping gazelle) and, says Scott, typically double their employment every four years.

That's a big reason Tampa Bay's ears should perk up. "We're trying to grow jobs here rather than spend $1 million per biotech job we acquire," Scott says.

Ideally, Gazelle Lab is looking for up to 10 teams of people, rather than individuals, with an entrepreneurial itch and a business idea to apply for the program.

Betsy Bennett, an area consultant and former chief financial officer, advises young companies on money issues and will be one of the mentors of Gazelle Lab.

"Some entrepreneurs understand the financial side and others do not at all," says Bennett, a USF grad and former CFO at PSCU Financial Services in St. Petersburg. "I like to mentor younger companies."

Looks like she's about to get her wish.

Robert Trigaux, Times business columnist

U.S. must create 21M jobs by 2020; Tampa Bay innovators are doing their part 06/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 24, 2011 6:54pm]

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