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St. Pete College’s new innovation hub to bridge workforce gap

Veronica Brezina



A rendering of the future workforce innovation hub at St. Petersburg College's Michael and Evelyn Bilirakis Building in Tarpon Springs. Images provided.

Colleges are adopting new curriculums to align with the constant rise of technological advancements that local employers expect students to become familiar with before graduation. 

St. Petersburg College, which has campuses across Pinellas County and was the first state college in Florida to offer bachelor’s degrees, is preparing to open a center at its Tarpon Springs location that will be offering more technology-based certificates and pathways to students. 

“This idea started as an incubator, and it morphed into a workforce innovation hub,” said Rodrigo “Rod” Davis, provost at SPC’s Tarpon Springs campus. 

The deans and college leadership identified the 40,000-square-foot Michael and Evelyn Bilirakis Building, which houses the Bilirakis College of Education, as the ideal location. 

The building will remain and SPC will convert a 10,000-square-foot section into the two-story hub, to debut in 2024. 

Talks of creating a tailored workforce center surfaced several years ago as SPC was jostling with different concepts to create additional access points to high-wage careers and cultivate external partnerships with new employers. 

“We build out short-term credentials that are needed to articulate the future [workforce] framework. The academic faculty joins us to help shape the curriculum with industry partners, many of whom sit on the advisory committee,” SPC’s Dean of Workforce Development Belinthia Berry said. 

Today, SPC’s Advisory Committee represents over 300 companies and the college offers more than 200 degrees and certificates. 

By the end of next year, Berry expects SPC will create over two dozen new certificates based off of insights from industry partners, and potentially more, through the new venture. 

Davis describes the future hub as having an “industrial” yet modern design similar to existing business and startup incubators. There will be a space for students to host demonstrations for companies and TED Talk-like events, as well as a commercial kitchen that could be rented. 

A rendering of SPC’s future workforce innovation hub as seen at night. 

For students on a manufacturing career track, the hub will offer tools such as soldering equipment, an etching laser and 3D printers.  

The second level may feature rentable office spaces and Zoom recording rooms.

Davis said the hub will be named after Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor resident and former Florida House of Representatives speaker; however, there will be naming rights available for the interior spaces.

The project is estimated to cost roughly $7 million. SPC is evaluating available grants and funding sources to apply towards the cost. SPC has historically been able to secure local and federal grants for expanding programs.

In September, SPC was awarded $323,832 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration through a nationwide STEM competition. The funds will help SPC develop its artificial intelligence and geospatial training program. 

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