Envision Alachua enters phase III

Plum Creek held the first Envision Alachua Task Force Meeting for Phase III on April 17, providing an update on initiatives and a preliminary timeline for plan completion and submittal to the county.

Envision’s economic progress initiative will develop further with site visits to successful technology hubs like the North Carolina Research Triangle (41,000 jobs created at its peak), which task force member Dale Brill said is the best example of what the program is trying to achieve, in order to determine best practices for development. The task force will also try to leverage the area’s scientific pre-eminence; develop and maintain new technologies and workforce for innovation-based sectors; and attract new technology-intensive companies while continuing to nurture home-grown, innovation-based companies.

To support those companies, the East County Educators Committee is forging partnerships with Santa Fe College, UF, CareerSource and other parts of the county’s educational system to make sure that skilled workers and Ph.D.s both are available by providing job-specific training, leadership training and supporting digital divide initiatives

“Our focus is a pipeline to academic success,” said Karen Cole-Smith of Santa Fe College. “We have to start as early as possible, be proactive … and it has to be relevant, sustainable and supported by our education partners and the community.”

One of the more prominent criticisms of the plan has been centered around the effect that it might have on local wetlands. Steve Seibert, of triSect Innovates, said that Envision Alachua asked a group of wetland and water experts, including Wendy Graham at the UF Water Institute, to review their results and assumptions for more opportunities.

He said that while there was a general agreement from the panel on the initiatives, the group thought that Envision Alachua could be more aggressive on stormwater and wastewater capture and processing and that the team should be careful in the future about problems with phosphates in the soil.

Seibert said that the team is determined to put “the right water to the right use” and specific initiatives along those lines include making sure that all agriculture and silviculture are managed with best industry practices and ensuring that all reclaimed water is put to environmental purposes, not to just water lawns. The county would have to sign off on any changes made to the 200 to 300 acres of wetlands that might be affected.

“We have an opportunity to show how it’s possible that we can use 50 percent less water and still live fruitful lives,” Seibert said. “We can show that we can use less water and still accommodate new jobs in the future. We can provide better solutions than just surrounding existing wetlands with development.

Future meetings will include an Education Summit on June 18 and another task force meeting on October 9. To read more about the plan visit http://www.envisionalachua.com/.

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