Villamil: County should step up preparations for Scripps
By Tom Harlan
A local economic expert says Miami-Dade County needs to invest in workforce development if it is to benefit from Scripps Florida.
Tony Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group, a Coral Gables firm studying the state's biotech industry, said Miami-Dade has a small life-sciences cluster with facilities at the University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital. But he said it could reap great benefits if it strengthens its training options to prepare for a science center that is to be established in Palm Beach County by the Scripps Research Institute.
"We have all the ingredients," said Mr. Villamil, chairman of Gov. Jeb Bush's Council of Economic Advisors. "But if we do more on education and regional transportation and economic development, we will benefit even more from the Scripps facility."
Florida International University's planned school of medicine would be a strong step in the right direction, he said. And schools like Miami Dade College could train midlevel personnel for Scripps and other companies that could arrive if the institute opens in 2006, he said.
When Scripps takes off, scientific graduates as well as engineering and finance graduates will be in demand, he said.
In addition, the county should work with Broward and Palm Beach counties on regional economic development and transportation initiatives, Mr. Villamil said.
The three county public-private partnerships - the Beacon Council in Miami-Dade, the Broward Alliance and the Palm Beach Business Development Board - are working on the Scripps initiative, he said.
"We need more regional cooperation like that." He said the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority should be given funds to improve transit options. "The closer we are in terms of integration, the more we will be a tri-county market."
The three counties have about 5.5 million residents with personal income of $130 billion, an economic market larger than all of the South American and Caribbean countries combined, he said.
Miami-Dade officials should enhance and develop projects that improve education and regional transportation and economic development, he said.
Mr. Villamil said the key goal now is to ensure that a campus of sufficient size is delivered to Scripps by 2006.
Scripps should have a permanent research facility and sufficient land within a 5-mile radius to spawn startups from the pharmaceutical and life-sciences fields, he said.
The arrival of Scripps would benefit the state after 15 years, he said, adding that the institute would attract other life-sciences firms to the area as it produces medical discoveries.
Mr. Villamil said that during a 15- to 20-year period, Scripps transformed San Diego from a Navy town to an industrial city with more than 499 companies.