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St. Petersburg College opens Innovation Hub

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg College officials celebrated opening the Chris Sprowls Workforce Innovation Hub on the Tarpon Springs campus Tuesday (June 20). Images provided.

While just three years shy of celebrating its centennial birthday, St. Petersburg College (SPC) continues fostering workforce development and innovation by incorporating new technologies into its wide array of programming.

The institution began in an unused wing of St. Petersburg High School in 1927 and continues expanding its footprint throughout Pinellas County. SPC opened its latest facility Tuesday, the Chris Sprowls Workforce Innovation Hub.

The 10,000-square-foot facility on the Tarpon Springs campus will provide advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurial and event space. Dr. Emmanuel Hernandez, dean of the College of Business, said the Innovation Hub aligns with SPC’s focus on increasing economic mobility.

“It’s a magnet,” Hernandez told the Catalyst. “Our hope is that we’re going to inspire people to work in the different areas that this space represents.”

Dr. Emmanuel Hernandez, dean of the College of Business, said the facility’s advanced manufacturing equipment would support rapid prototyping.

SPC named the state-of-the-art building after Chris Sprowls, the former Speaker of the Florida House. He is a longtime advocate for cultivating a skilled workforce through personal development, collaboration and supporting local manufacturing business growth.

A “maker space” features advanced manufacturing technology like 3D printers, laser equipment and drones. Hernandez said that allows for rapid prototyping.

Students and community partners can utilize its flexible workspaces, conference rooms and coworking areas. The event hall can host large conferences and presentations and includes rooms for culinary catering and teaching.

Hernandez said the Innovation Hub shows local business owners that SPC can facilitate growth. He said it would also entice entrepreneurs to relocate and utilize the facility to enhance their vision.

“The space, by itself, is not the only thing that will help us grow as a community,” Hernandez added. “The conversations, activities, events and the training opportunities we will host there will be the catalyst to make that happen.”

The Innovation Hub also provides space for community partners and entrepreneurs to socialize.

SPC officials are now looking for local organizations to partner with students and faculty on research and experiential learning initiatives at the Innovation Hub. Their target industries are technology, manufacturing, healthcare and biotechnology.

Hernandez said he is particularly excited for the facility’s commercial kitchen space. He said the food truck ownership program was a resounding success last summer, and SPC will expand the course to all culinary ventures this year.

“We have great support systems in the area for high tech, cybersecurity and those areas,” Hernandez explained. “But we haven’t been focusing too much on lifestyle entrepreneurs, and they represent the bulk of entrepreneurial activity for most communities. Assets like the Innovation Hub allow us to … grow that lifestyle entrepreneurial sector.”

Hernandez said entrepreneurs could utilize the Innovation Hub’s 3D printers to lower production costs. He is also eager to see how they incorporate its virtual and augmented reality devices. “Those are things we’re starting slowly right now,” he said.

In the announcement, Dr. Jackie Skyrd, SPC’s vice president of workforce development and community partnerships, said students would gain practical skills and real-world experience at the facility. She believes it will further cement the region “as a national leader in talent and innovation.”

Rod Davis, provost of the Tarpon Springs campus, called the Innovation Hub’s opening a “pivotal moment” to empower students, bolster community relationships and create new business partnerships. “This transformative endeavor not only symbolizes SPC’s commitment to progress but also serves innovative opportunities that lie ahead,” he said.

St. Petersburg has a wealth of tech resources, and Clearwater is similarly a hotbed for the tourism industry. Hernandez noted that manufacturers typically flock to northern Pinellas County, where land is relatively less expensive.

In addition, any reduction in the cost of living will likely attract students and burgeoning entrepreneurs. Hernandez said the Tarpon Springs facility underscores SPC’s commitment to mitigating barriers and fostering economic mobility.

“So, our community partners will now have multiple venues they can attend throughout our campuses to grow and feel supported,” he added. “We are here to provide what the community needs.”



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