Stimulating Creativity

by Roger Pynn

I try to stay away from politics here, but there are things political everyone is talking about that provide plenty of room for conversation regardless of your persuasion. The impact of federal stimulus dollars cannot be denied. Whether we will regret the enormity of the expenses is a topic for political debate, but one thing is sure … the availability of stimulus dollars has spawned an awful lot of creativity.

Take for example the folks at Workforce Central Florida who had shut down two offices due to budget cuts then received $13 million in stimulus dollars to fund short-term programs that will end in 15 months and did an about face to put that money to work in the community. They served an amazing 125,000 people last year, but now they are ramped up to provide help to as many as 185,000 in 2009.

I think their WCF Paid Interns program is ingenious in this economy. Companies that need summer help will see the tax dollars put to work to pay them at a time when most companies are struggling to afford the staff they have. And here’s a great way to kick the tires on future employees, as well as lighten the summer load of staff that are probably ready for a break.

Then there’s Planar Energy Devices (full disclosure … they are a client) that stands on the verge of creating a whole new industry for Florida if successful in its bid for a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Governor Charlie Crist’s Energy Office stepped up in support of that grant that would allow Planar to create hundreds of jobs in the Gainesville and Orlando areas for the creation of next generation hybrid vehicle battery technology and manufacturing.

Who would ever have thought of Florida as a player in the automotive industry? Planar has some of the most cutting-edge battery technology in the world and is developing next generation concepts at its headquarters here in Orlando. Now it’s acquiring a recently shuttered but state-of-the art lithium ion battery plant in Alachua near the University of Florida and plans not only automotive batteries but is set to provide much of the U.S. military’s battery needs, as well.

With Planar’s plans for research partnerships with UF and the University of Central Florida could come a whole new cluster of next gen energy storage activity … a great addition to our economy.

As the Wall Street Journal noted today the federal government is betting $2.4 billion that stimulus funds can help turn the U.S. into the center of battery manufacturing. Planar’s proposal is to set up shop almost overnight, put people to work in weeks and churn out product in a few months while other applicants are still preparing to break ground. Another creative play with what amounts to a pittance of the overall stimulus dollars because Planar seized on the opportunity to do this in Florida and reopen that valuable plant rather than building from scratch.

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