Economic Roundtable: Building an 'education corridor' Downtown

JU, UNF and FSCJ have opened new facilities within walking distance of each other Downtown in the past two years.

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  • | 4:20 a.m. March 27, 2019
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Jacksonville’s colleges and universities have an important role in developing an educated and available workforce for Northeast Florida.

But they’re also taking an active role in creating a vibrant Downtown environment, leaders of Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville said Thursday at an Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville forum.

All three institutions opened new Downtown education centers in the past two years that are within walking distance of each other.

“We’re not dispersed around Downtown,” FSCJ Interim President Kevin Hyde said at the luncheon event at JU’s Davis College of Business.

“It really can become an education corridor,” he said.

FSCJ opened a dormitory at 20 W. Adams St. last year with 58 apartment-style units and a restaurant called 20West Café, operated by the school’s culinary program.

UNF opened its Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the renovated Barnett building at 112 W. Adams St.

“We are the first tenants in that building,” said Mark Dawkins, dean of the UNF Coggin College of Business.

“UNF had to be part of Downtown to contribute to the growth of Downtown,” he said.

JU opened its Nathan M. Bisk Center for Professional Studies in 2017 in the 23-story VyStar Tower at 76 S. Laura St.

“We believe in Downtown Jacksonville,” said JU President Tim Cost.

“We think it’s going to do very well and we’re glad to be a part of it.”

The three institutions, along with Edward Waters College, work together to fill Jacksonville’s higher education needs, the three officials said. So, it’s not surprising to see them locate in close quarters Downtown.

“The better we partner, the better for everybody in this room,” Cost told the gathering of 50 business people.

The colleges and universities tailor some of their programs to the Jacksonville business community. Hyde said half of FSCJ students attend for workforce development programs.

“They are coming to us for a particular skill,” he said.

“It is very routine that we will go to an employer who says we need ‘X’, ” said Hyde.

“Our whole goal is to be very, very responsive to that.”

UNF’s new entrepreneurship center is designed to bring in students and other entrepreneurs who can provide opportunities for the university’s students.

“It is intended to be a living learning lab for our students,” Dawkins said.

A large number of students at the local colleges and universities remain in the Jacksonville workforce after graduation. 

Dawkins said about 75 percent of UNF graduates remain in the community and the percentage rises to 81 percent for business school graduates.

Cost said about 75 percent of Floridians who attend JU stay in Jacksonville after graduation, but the school reaches a wide geographic area for its student body.

Besides bringing in students from 48 states, 10 percent of JU students are international, Cost said, and about 50 percent of non-Floridian JU graduates decide to remain in Jacksonville.

JU makes a strong effort to attract foreign students to its main campus in Arlington.

“We try to do more to sell Jacksonville, Florida, than anybody,” he said. “We try to get them to fall in love.”

Cost said it is part of JU’s mission.

“That’s part of who we are. That’s the role we should play in Jacksonville,” he said.