GTEC finds success, confusion

Many residents in East Gainesville know the name GTEC, but misconceptions abound over the facility’s purpose and ownership, according to a study produced for the City of Gainesville.

Even the name—Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center—furthers confusion about the facility’s purpose.

“The name Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center grossly fails to describe what GTEC currently does, or what is the vision for its future,” the report by Greenwood Consulting Group said.

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At Thursday’s regular meeting, the city commission heard a presentation by Sarah Vidal, director of Gainesville community reinvestment area, and Jim Greenwood, president of Greenwood Consulting Group, about GTEC’s history, proposed changes and community misconceptions.

The commission voted to affirm GTEC’s recommendations and let staff begin planning changes and budgets that will be brought to the commission in the spring.

In December 2020, GTEC paid off its mortgage for the 1999 loan that funded 60 percent of the facility construction.

Vidal said the facility has more financial flexibility without that mortgage, and GTEC can now remove restrictions on what tenants can use in the space—rules that the mortgage required.

GTEC also moved from NW Fifth Avenue to SE Hawthorne Road in 2019.

“Moving out here really confirmed the commitment to the 10 year plan,” Vidal said to the commission.

The new building needs maintenance typical in a 20-year-old building. Vidal said the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area (GCRA) hopes to bring a budget before the commission in January.

Greenwood said the facility has found success but needs improvement.

“It’s overall about a B+,” Greenwood said. “Now what that says is, it’s doing pretty darn well, but it’s certainly not an A+ student. It certainly has things that need to be addressed.”

Two concerns which need addressing deal with public perception. The city needs to be clear about what the facility is for and who owns it.

The current signage, the report said, makes GTEC look like a Santa Fe College satellite location. SF partners with GTEC to manage the programming at GTEC but doesn’t own the facility.

Greenwood said another misconception deals with the center’s success.

“I heard early on in this project the perception that there’s no activity at GTEC,” Greenwood said.

But he called the view incorrect.

In the past five and a half years, GTEC has averaged 23 incubating tenants, and every two months a tenant graduates from the center.

The center also hosts several “anchor” tenants.

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos agreed that the city and GTEC should share its success and said the city has a problem with that. Other commissioners agreed.

“It is the sort of successful program that we need to be telling a story about,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said.

Moving forward, Greenwood recommends changing the name, suggesting East Gainesville Business Center or Gainesville: The Entrepreneurship Center.

Also, the consulting study said GTEC needs consistency in leadership and an operating financial model with the GCRA and City of Gainesville.

“Instead, GTEC has been shuttled among a variety of organizations, and among organizations that themselves were in transition…and has suffered from inconsistent vision and oversight,” the report said.

The GCRA has already begun small improvements to the facility on Hawthorne Road. Items that Vidal described as “low-hanging fruit.” Based on the report, GCRA will return to the commission with any plans and changes.

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