National, global branding efforts next for InternetCoast initiative
By Sherri C. Ranta
Having successfully branded South Florida a hub for high-tech companies, supporters of the tri-county Internet Coast initiative say the next step is to create national and international recognition.
"Statewide, we're very successful in terms of the branding effort. Nationally, there are still challenges," said Fred Jackson, vice chairman of the Internet Coast executive committee.
"The Internet is not a very popular buzz word these days. Having the name 'Internet Coast' takes additional conversation to explain," he said. "People understand when you say the IT Hub of the Americas. Geographically, because of Miami's position between North and South America, people say that makes sense."
The grassroots movement by the technology sector to brand Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties a hub for information technology and telecommunications companies grew to fruition in 2000 when a formal nonprofit 501(c)3 group incorporated as Internet Coast.
The day-to-day work of the group is borne by the counties' three economic development groups - the Broward Alliance, Beacon Council in Miami-Dade and the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
Volunteers also fill vital roles - donating time and in-kind services, such as the Boca Raton-based Accris Corp. donation of the Internet Coast website. Accris principal Jeff Kline and Cenetec Corp. principal Scott Adams were among early organizers of the Internet Coast initiative.
A 25-member board guides policy for three county executives Mr. Jackson, who is a veteran IBM executive; Palm Beach County attorney Phil Ward, principal of Ward Damon Posner & Gilbert, and John Ruffin Jr., president of The Ruffin Group, a business development consultant.
About 2,500 companies are connected to the initiative, which has no membership fees. The group's $50,000 budget is from a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
The initiative, Mr. Jackson said, is an example of the best cooperation between the three counties and their economic development organizations.
"While there are other challenges in other areas, this is the first area of full cooperation between the three EDOs and the three counties," he said. "Everyone has signed up to the fact that this region is the IT Hub of the Americas."
Internet Coast officials hope to launch public relations and marketing campaigns aimed at the general public, state and national leaders next year, said Kelly Smallridge, senior vice president of operations for Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
"At this point, we need to launch a major public relations campaign to get us to the next level," she said. "Initially, we worked through a marketing committee. Now we're seeking the assistance of a professional group."
In the beginning, Ms. Smallridge, said, the initiative sought out business leaders in the IT industry. Now the group needs to reach out to the general public, she said.
The organization's networking opportunities, seminars and conferences - much of it done by volunteers - continues, Ms. Smallridge said, though the group has seen a slow down.
"It's just very hard for anyone to take time to participate in activities outside of their work. We continue to rely on business leaders to help drive the initiatives, so we've seen somewhat of a slow down, but by no means a lack of interest," she said.
"We are ready to start gearing up efforts to put the Internet Coast back on the track it was prior to 9/11 and the slowdown in the economy," Ms. Smallridge said.