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USF center eyes a goal: someday, a guaranteed job for every business grad

The new “talent development” facility is made possible by a $10.6 million gift from the Bellini family.
Guests walk past a lounge area in the new Bellini Center for Talent Development after a ribbon-cutting Thursday, March 24, 2022, on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. The center, funded by a $10.6 million gift from USF alumni Arnie and Lauren Bellini, aims to connect students with the businesses and prepare them for the workforce.
Guests walk past a lounge area in the new Bellini Center for Talent Development after a ribbon-cutting Thursday, March 24, 2022, on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. The center, funded by a $10.6 million gift from USF alumni Arnie and Lauren Bellini, aims to connect students with the businesses and prepare them for the workforce. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]
Published Mar. 24

Two days after the University of South Florida chose a new president, USF Foundation chairperson Jay Stroman announced another “transformational” development for the school — a gleaming new career center designed to get thousands of students into the work world sooner.

The university on Thursday launched the Bellini Talent Development Center, a 9,000-square foot building on the Tampa campus made possible by a $10.6 million donation from USF alumni Arnie and Lauren Bellini. The center’s aim is to close the gap between academia and what employers want by offering trainings led by industry professionals, career services and help with internship placement.

Arnie and Lauren Bellini, right, talk with people attending the opening of the Bellini Center for Talent Development March 24, 2022, on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. The Bellinis donated $10.6 million for the new facility.
Arnie and Lauren Bellini, right, talk with people attending the opening of the Bellini Center for Talent Development March 24, 2022, on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. The Bellinis donated $10.6 million for the new facility. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]

All 8,000 students in the Muma College of Business, and across USF’s three campuses, will engage with the center, said dean Moez Limayem.

Rather than simply making the center available to students, its programs will be woven into the curriculum. Core courses will require students to visit the center or participate in trainings led by businesses looking to hire them. And students will be able to earn certifications. “Build it and they will come doesn’t work,” Limayem said.

Arnie Bellini, co-founder and former CEO of ConnectWise, an IT support firm which he sold for $1.5 billion in 2019, said many didn’t believe he could build his business if he stayed local. His father did, though, having moved the family to the area working for IBM in 1972.

ConnectWise was built “using nothing but the resources available here in Tampa Bay,” Bellini said.

Arnie Bellini
Arnie Bellini [ Courtesy of ConnectWise ]

“I knew this would be a great place to build a business,” he said. “Going to USF, I knew a lot of my fellow colleagues at USF were really smart people. If I could just get them to come work with me, well gosh, that would take care of the business itself and the talent pipeline. So we did that.”

When ConnectWise sold, he said, 70 people became millionaires, with about half of them USF graduates.

“We thought if you could do that in Tampa Bay, if you plant a tree in the forest, if you will, and it grows, you need to give back to that forest,” Bellini said. “That’s responsible capitalism.”

Limayem jokingly asked if he could have the list of ConnectWise millionaires.

Ralph Wilcox, the University of South Florida provost, walks through the new Bellini Center for Talent Development after a ribbon-cutting for the facility on March 24, 2022, on the USF Tampa campus.
Ralph Wilcox, the University of South Florida provost, walks through the new Bellini Center for Talent Development after a ribbon-cutting for the facility on March 24, 2022, on the USF Tampa campus. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]
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After selling the company, the Bellinis set a goal of creating 70,000 high-paying, high-tech jobs in the region.

“This is our ace in the hole,” Bellini said of the new center.

Arnie Bellini earned an MBA from USF in 1982. Lauren Bellini is a 1991 marketing graduate. Among those joining them at the center’s ribbon-cutting Thursday was Rhea Law, who was chosen Tuesday as USF’s new president. Law said the center could be a national model and would benefit local students and businesses “for generations to come.”

Scott Riley, founder and CEO of Fintech, which provides electronic data and payments to the alcohol industry, said USF is rich with “intellectual capital.” The center, he said, would help put that to use for growing industries coming to the Tampa Bay area.

“If we haven’t got our students jobs, we haven’t done a great job,” said Riley, who like the Bellinis, is a USF graduate.

Guests visit a conference room at the new Bellini Center for Talent Development after a ribbon-cutting for the facility on Thursday, March 24, 2022, on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.
Guests visit a conference room at the new Bellini Center for Talent Development after a ribbon-cutting for the facility on Thursday, March 24, 2022, on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]

Limayem said he hopes one day to be able to promise any graduate that if they don’t have a job upon graduation the school will pay back their tuition. He said the center will achieve that goal.

He said that 90 percent of students who have internships or some form of experiential learning end up with jobs and competitive salaries upon graduation. The center, he said, will be good for the business community too.

“We will make it so easy for them to come here and not only recruit interns and grads but help us shape interns and grads,” he said.

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