The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced that Central Florida is one of 10 newly established NSF Regional Innovation Engines, and three Team Orlando organizations are part of that engine: University of Central Florida (UCF), Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP), and the Florida High Tech Corridor (FHTC).

The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 authorized the NSF Engine program, and the Central Florida Semiconductor Innovation Engine (the Engine) will initially receive an award up to $15 million for the next two years, much like its sister engines that have their own areas of innovation focus. The initial NSF investment, a total of $150 million into these 10 regions, will be matched nearly two to one by state and local governments, various federal agencies, philanthropy, and private industry. Over the next 10 years, these engines will be eligible to receive approximately $1.6 to $2 billion more to stimulate economic growth across a range of sectors.

The Central Florida Engine will create a next-generation semiconductor technology innovation ecosystem. The Engine’s work is expected to improve the country’s competitive advantage in semiconductor advanced packaging to ensure reliable, secure domestic access to chips that underpin several aspects of the American economy. According to The Economist, Taiwan currently produces over 60% of the world’s semiconductors and over 90% of its most advanced semiconductors.

The Central Florida region possesses multiple strengths that have developed from proactive decision-making by multiple government, industry, and academic players over several years, which have helped position Central Florida as the competitive tech hub on the rise that it is today.

“We are excited that NSF selected our team for this award,” said Dr. Grace Bochenek, director of UCF’s School of Modeling, Simulation, and Training. “UCF is committed to driving innovation and supporting the success of the nation’s semiconductor industry. There are multiple, ongoing research and academic initiatives in the microelectronic semiconductor area at UCF, and… ongoing semiconductor research at UCF is very interdisciplinary with a focus in micro electromechanical systems and micro fabrication facilities that include semiconductor chip manufacturing as well as other areas. These efforts, along with our excellence in modeling, simulation, and digital twin technologies will accelerate that future.”

After the Great Recession, Osceola County invested in constructing NeoCity, a 500-acre technology district, to diversify its economy. The county and its regional partners have since invested more than $273 million to make NeoCity the hub of Central Florida’s expanding semiconductor industry. Led by BRIDG, the Engine focuses the talents of major Central Florida research institutions, local government, nonprofits, as well as economic and workforce development partners, to bring the semiconductor advanced packaging industry within the U.S.

“As a not-for-profit focused on inclusive regional economic development around semiconductor advanced packaging of microelectronic systems, and as the first company to begin business operations in NeoCity, we are honored… and very proud of our partners in achieving this award,” said Dr. John Allgair, chief technology officer and interim president for BRIDG. “We look forward to working closely with our partners in the years to come to foster and grow an inclusive regional semiconductor manufacturing, advanced packaging, and microelectronics systems industrial base together.”

The investment in the Central Florida Engine and the other NSF Engines represent one of the largest investments in place-based research and economic development in American history. This action also places science and technology leadership as the primary driver for regional economic competitiveness and potential job creation.

A recent winner of the Chamber of the Year Award, the OEP is a business development organization that seeks to grow the economy, drive investment, improve competitiveness, and fuel regional leadership by harnessing Central Florida’s partnerships.

“This win represents a pivotal moment for our region’s efforts to become a national hub for semiconductor and microelectronics research, development and manufacturing,” said Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the OEP. “With over half a billion dollars in state and federal investments in the past year and a half alone, Osceola County’s NeoCity is on the verge of transitioning from what once was just an idea to an economic engine anchoring a critical industry cluster.”

Engines that successfully show progress toward their specific benchmarks could each potentially receive up to $160 million from the NSF (specifically) over 10 years, as they catalyze that NSF funding to draw additional investment into their regions.

In 1996, the Florida High Tech Corridor was established across Central Florida. Its purpose: to help industry representatives find researchers to conduct applied research, find university professors and students interested in that research, and perform the required matchmaking. The FHTC consists of 23 counties where three of the country’s largest research institutions (UCF, the University of South Florida, and the University of Florida) are located.

“Winning one of the first-ever NSF Regional Innovation Engine awards is a transformational moment we will reflect on years from now as a turning point in the history of Florida’s high-tech economy,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, CEO for the FHTC. “This accomplishment validates our region’s innovation potential and spotlights a collaborative effort by many partners who set aside their own interests for a common goal: to propel our ecosystem and the communities we serve forward by cementing this region as a global hub for groundbreaking semiconductor research and technological innovation.”

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