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TMCNet:  Downtown becoming magnet for technology companies

[May 07, 2013]

Downtown becoming magnet for technology companies

May 04, 2013 (Ocala Star-Banner - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- th!nk Technologies Group Powered by LSeven is one of a growing number of technology firms setting up shop downtown, creating a high-tech hub in Ocala's central core.

"We love it downtown," said Matthew Villella who, along with partner Christopher Oleson, moved the company to 101 NE First Ave. five months ago.

"You have a corridor, a little technology thing, going on." th!nk Technologies is just up the street from Qualcomm Atheros Inc. and is in close proximity to the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) and Ansafone Contact Centers LLC -- not to mention the Ocala Power Plant, which is a business incubator that nurtures fledgling companies, a number of which have a technological thrust.

Sitel Worldwide Corp., although not directly downtown, is in the city's central business core.

"Downtown is the most professional area of Ocala, and there's a nucleus here of professionals, CPAs, attorneys and engineering offices," Villella said.

And being downtown gives him exposure to those professionals, which could be good for his business.

th!nk Technologies Group, which has been in business since March 2011, is an outgrowth of an earlier company: Ocala IT. And th!nk Technologies, a company that manages computer networks for organizations, is still a company on the move.

Just this week, it merged with LSeven Solutions, a Fort Lauderdale information technology support company, to form th!nk Technologies Group Powered by LSeven.

"They are large," Villella said about LSeven. "It's like having a big brother helping to bring you along. They want to be more prevalent in North Florida, and this helps them." LSeven has a network operating center with 20 technicians and 10 engineers.

"It gives us a lot more muscle on the support side," Villella said. "When our customers call, they have 20 technicians waiting to help them with their calls." And the merger will allow the company to grow in other markets. "From here, we are looking at going other places throughout the state -- Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville," Villella said.

Right now, th!nk Technologies has six employees in Ocala and 35 in Fort Lauderdale.

In addition to managing businesses' or organizations' computer networks with a team of certified engineers and technicians, th!nk also offers cloud hosting, in which they move a company's network and server onto their data center.

The company's data center is located at Ocala Electric, the city of Ocala's utility.

"The more we can keep it local, the better it is," Villella said. "I don't want to give my money to other carriers outside town." Villella said the company has done well.

"We have doubled in size in the last two years," he said. "Any kind of business or organization is a potential client. Our cloud hosting is kind of unique to the area, so we offer something different for our clients." The city of Ocala, with its 400-mile fiber-optic system, stands ready to assist companies in the information business, like th!nk Technologies.

"It's the information age," said Alan Phelps, the city's telecommunications manager. "Everybody has heard about that for so many years, but it's here now." He said 10 years ago people feared the Internet. Now, its use is so widespread that, if the system goes down, everyone is wondering how they will do their banking.

Phelps said th!nk has co-located its equipment at the city's Network Operations Center and another company, Florida Phone, is considering that option as well. "We have several of them, actually," Phelps said about potential customers of the city's system.

By using the city's fiber system to move data, the companies do not have to build their own networks. "Anybody in that type of business can use our fiber network as a highway," Phelps said. "We see these companies starting to emerge and really do something with it." The city's telecommunication system is self-supporting. It earns money to operate and grow the system from its customers -- not from tax dollars.

Phelps said the number of technology companies coming to town is expanding.

"We expect that to continue to grow as more people get into the business and more people need more information," he said.

The Ocala Power Plant, an incubator for startup businesses regardless of their focus, is seeing a number of technology companies sprouting within its facility.

For instance, DS MediaLabs, which develops mobile phone applications, is continuing to grow.

"They are doing a huge project for Oakley glasses," Power Plant director Kevin Reed said about the company, which sells high-performance sunglasses and goggles.

Asked why he thinks technology companies are moving downtown, Reed said, "Smart, talented people like to be around other smart, talented people." But he said there is another reason to encourage the development of technology companies.

"The software technology being developed here is being applied to the products being developed by other (non-technological) companies," Reed said. "Because of the technology corridor, we strengthen the full range of very important employers here in Ocala." He said many companies are technologically related even though that is not their primary business.

The Power Plant itself, which has received funding from both Marion County and the city, is downtown because it operates out of a city-owned building there and because the city provides the electric and high-speed fiber-optic connections.

Marc Mondell, the city's executive director of community development, said IHMC, Ansafone and Qualcomm Atheros -- formerly known as Intellon -- all wanted to be downtown.

Although the city gave each of those companies incentives, he said if those companies found other sites that were preferable, the city would have helped the companies anyway because the city wants job creation. He said the city does not steer companies downtown, but it does point out the advantages, such as a dollar-for-dollar credit on water and sewer impact fees if the company does improvements because it would be located in a Community Redevelopment Area.

Sitel, a global company that operates an inbound call center, is located in the North Magnolia Avenue area, north of the center of town. That company chose a building on North Magnolia Avenue large enough to accommodate its projected 600 employees.

"There are limited places they could fit," Mondell said. "But they also wanted to be in the central business core." On the other hand, Intellon, now known as Qualcomm Atheros, a company that provides wireless and wired technologies for the mobile, networking, computing and consumer electronics markets, wanted to be downtown because of the amenities, Mondell said.

The company originally was located near the airport, and employees had to get in their cars to go to lunch. Moving downtown allowed them to walk together to lunch.

Amenities were a draw for IHMC, too, although being close to universities was another important selling point.

"They know that their employees want to be in an urban environment. They want to be in a place where, if they work late, they have something to do in the evening," Mondell said.

He said the same is true for Ansafone, a call center that offers inbound and outbound customer services.

"They recognized that downtown is a special place," Mondell said.

Mondell said the city has not developed a special program to attract technology companies, but it certainly has a desire to attract them. He said the city is trying to increase the number of businesses downtown because it wants the downtown to be pedestrian-oriented.

"Obviously, we want them because they have a lot of expendable income. These people are paid high salaries and, more importantly, when you have these smart people in close proximity, the opportunity for spin-offs is greater," Mondell said.

Contact Susan Latham Carr at 867-4156 or susan.carr@ocala.com.

___ (c)2013 Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.) Visit the Ocala Star-Banner (Ocala, Fla.) at www.ocala.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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