Jabil opens R&D innovation center as part of $67 million St. Petersburg campus expansion

The building, formerly the home of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Research Institute, includes labs and work space for more than 100 engineers, researchers and technicians.
Published March 28
Updated March 28

ST. PETERSBURG — With architecture as low-slung as a classic Florida ranch house, the new innovation center that Jabil opened Thursday is not much to look at from the outside.

No matter. What counts is what happens inside the labs that Jabil has moved into the 40,000-square-foot center. The research and development building is the first of four phases of construction planned as part of a $67 million expansion of Jabil's headquarters campus on Roosevelt Boulevard. All work is expected to be done by the end of 2021.

"This is just the beginning of a campus that is not only going to be state of the art, but is going to attract our most precious and competitive advantage: people that want to work here, in a company that's growing," CEO Mark Mondello said.

One of the Tampa Bay area's largest public companies with revenues likely to top $26 billion this year, Jabil designs and makes a huge range of products, including appliances, computing hardware, telecommunications equipment, medical devices, and electronics for the automotive, aerospace, industrial, energy and consumer goods sectors. It has about 200,000 employees and 100 facilities in 29 countries, including the kind of design-centric innovation centers it debuted in St. Petersburg.

"I can't wait to see the innovations that happen within the walls of this building," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said. City Hall allowed Jabil to assume the lease for and maybe eventually buy the city-owned building, previously was the home of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Research Institute.

Those innovations? They're already happening.

More than 100 engineers, researchers and technicians work in the renovated building. In the lab for Nypro, a Jabil subsidiary that designs and makes products for the diagnostic, medical device, pharmaceutical delivery, and consumer health markets, there's a 3-D printed artificial knee that's finished out in titanium, steel, an array of sensors and wireless connectivity that allows health care providers to track, for example, how much exercise the patient's getting.

There's a feeding tube with a camera, an air-quality monitor that can be worn like a wristwatch, a heart-monitoring athletic shirt and a hand-held ultrasound device. There's more, too, much of it proprietary and thus screened off from visitors, who were told no photography inside the building.

One of those mostly secret projects concerns a piece of therapy equipment that's big enough — about 5 feel tall and more than 200 pounds — that currently it needs to be used at clinics and other health care facilities, said Angel Lasso, Nypro's senior director for engineering services. But work is underway to create a version one-fourth as big so that patients could take therapy at home and travel.

Other labs in the building include an:

• An advanced process development lab, which creates manufacturing processes using a broad range of disciplines — material science, chemical, mechn anical and electrical engineering, robotics and printed electronics — for highly specialized and difficult-to-make products.

• An enterprise and infrastructure test lab that develops ways to gauge the accuracy and reliability of testing procedures used to make equipment for cloud computing, data storage and networking, semiconductors and photonics.

• A failure analysis lab with a variety of capabilities, including an X-ray machine only slightly smaller than what the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uses to scan checked bags at Tampa International Airport.

As part of the expansion, Jabil also is tearing down its original building and will rebuild it bigger, with 170,000 square feet in four stories for offices and support services. It will renovate its current headquarters building inside and out. And it plans to position the new construction to maximize views of a large man-made lake at the rear of the campus.

"Feels like home," Mondello said. "We're a real technical, engineering-driven company, but there's a simplicity about our brand and a simplicity about who we are. And this campus just has that feel with the lake."

That's no small matter, since communities from Tampa to Singapore courted Jabil before it decided it would keep its head office in the city where it grew into a corporate powerhouse.

"When it comes down to it, we're a St. Pete company," Mondello said. "We've got 72 factories around the world. We've got about 50 million feet of manufacturing space." And I'll tell you: the offers we got to move to other locations? I'm really glad we didn't."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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