West Coast e-leaders knock on tri-county door for inclusion in plans
By Mindy Hagen
After lagging behind Southeast Florida's burgeoning technology industry for years, a group representing Florida's West Coast wants to join the region's new technology hub by partnering with some Miami-Dade organizations and developing infrastructure plans of its own.
Members of Collier County's Economic Development Council heard InternetCoast founder Jeff Kline speak in June on South Florida's technology industry and e-advances in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Susan Pareigis, president of the economic development council, said the lecture made her realize the West Coast should also get involved in the technological industry.
"What is good for Miami helps the state of Florida and what helps the state of Florida helps the West Coast," Ms. Pareigis said. "We share so much infrastructure with Miami-Dade and Broward that it can only be to our benefit to partner more frequently with them."
A greater sense of regionalism between the east and west coasts of South Florida could foster more technological growth, Ms. Pareigis said. She said her county's immediate goals are to become a part of an expanded InternetCoast and to meet with BellSouth executives about establishing an Internet access point to the Naples area.
BellSouth began operating four Florida Multmedia Internet Exchanges, or MIX sites, in downtown Miami, West Miami-Dade, downtown Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton in late June.
"We are eager to have more discussions with the InternetCoast and hope that they would eventually include us in their formal literature," Ms. Paraegis said. "There should be no boundaries put on a movement. If the State of Florida is looking to compete globally, we need to partner in order to add more jobs and be more competitive."
Mr. Kline, president and CEO of Accris Corp., said discussions about expanding InternetCoast are in the very early stages. He said the idea represents an interesting opportunity to further leverage the resources in the region.
"Whether it happens or not, the fact that other counties are coming to us and wanting to be involved says we have accomplished something," Mr. Kline said. "Whether our technology region is comprised of the tri-county area we have now, or if it is extended in the future, we need to poll everyone's resources to give ourselves a competitive advantage."
Mr. Kline said the decision to include the West Coast won't be decided by him but how technology expands.
"If the technology climate starts to circle around to that side of the coast and expands because it needs more room, then it would be attractive to us to include the new technology areas," he said.
Ms. Pareigis said she wants Mr. Kline to help heighten the county's resources by introducing her to representatives from BellSouth. She said she hopes to convince BellSouth that Collier would be a prime location for an Internet access node.
"Miami has taken the initiative to have two network access points. This is a tremendous benefit to our entire state," Ms. Pareigis said. "Our first course of action to boost our area as a technology center would be to try to secure a node over here."
Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, the state's newest public university, is also an impetus for technological growth on the West Coast, said Walter Rodriguez, director of the university's computer information systems. He said programs in information technology should help develop a stronger and more educated workforce by preparing students for careers in the industry.
"System-analyst and support-specialist occupations rank among the fastest-growing and highest-paid professions in Southwest Florida," Dr. Rodriguez said. "Educating students in computer information systems will put the power of computer programming and systems applications to work for businesses in the area, making them more efficient and competitive."
Dr. Rodriguez said the information systems department, which began more than four years ago, is the university's fastest-growing program, with 200 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled.
Despite these advances, technology industry experts from the tri-county area agree Florida's West Coast still has a long way to go.
Diane Sanchez, co-founder of the Internet Coast initiative, said Florida should try to develop as many interconnection hubs as possible but ensure the strength of each area before expanding at a rapid pace.
"I would be open to more partnerships, but we need to reinforce our own position in the tri-county area first," she said. "We should make sure the momentum remains strong in our three counties before branching out."
Eric Horowitz, president of the South Florida Telecom Forum, said he would only welcome expanding to the West Coast if Southeast Florida could benefit.
"It is always better to be more inclusive," said Mr. Horowitz, president of Telecom Recruiters International. "It is better for all Florida to work together as a bloc if we are to compete with Silicon Valley, Austin, TX, and Atlanta."