On Wednesday, March 2, 2022, the St. Petersburg Innovation District hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of the new Maritime and Defense Technology Hub, located alongside the city’s small downtown airfield.
The Administrator of NOAA, Dr. Richard Spinrad, was in attendance, along with St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, City Council Chair Gina Driscoll, County Commissioners Charlie Justice and Karen Seel, City Council members Brandi Gabbard and Ed Montanari, and Economic Development lead Dr. Cynthia Johnson were all in attendance. Also present were the Hub’s numerous tenants, Ben Minichino of Pole Star Global, Brian Connon of Saildrone, and Pat V. Mack of PVM.
Dr. Spinrad, who last year published Preparing a Workforce for the New Blue Economy, has long been a vocal advocate of growing the maritime data technology sector, which he sees as a market with untapped potential. Midway through his speech, he tucked his prepared remarks into his coat pocket and spoke from the cuff. “I’ve only spent an hour walking through here. I have never seen such incredible cohesion of business concepts—I say that seriously—as I saw just in my quick walk-through. It is so clear that what you have done here is, yes, attract industry and attract academia, but the connective tissue, the cohesiveness, and the potential for extraordinary impact is like nothing I have ever seen before. I can’t say that strongly enough.”
The Maritime and Defense Technology Hub, after undertaking months of renovations, now has available to its tenants both shared and separated working spaces, with such accommodations as secure comms rooms, port access, and chemical laboratories. The day’s event celebrates the completion of the Hub, an effort funded by state and federal governments towards maritime and technology solutions.
The Hub is in a unique building featuring over 32,000 square feet of space with laboratories, offices, and a large garage. No one tenant could really fit that layout need, so the Hub was born with the idea that multiple tenants in intersecting fields could take advantage of its amenities and, most importantly, foster collaboration between organizations. The tenants were carefully curated to assemble at the intersection of oceanography, defense, and information technology, as represented across private industry, government, and academic research.
Alison Barlow explained the importance of collaboration as a goal of this project. "Because it was once a single-tenant building, I think that works to our advantage because they’ve got to share a kitchen. They’ve got to share hallways. They’ve got to share conference rooms. So they are colliding on a daily basis." She went on to describe the Hub's early successes in this regard. "They started a tradition of happy hours during the whole planning process, and so we’ve already had a number of opportunities already come from those early conversations.”
In addition to its benefits to tenants, the Hub requires its tenants to earn their place by serving the St. Petersburg community through initiatives such as volunteer and charity work, participation in district events, and offering internship and mentorship opportunities to local residents.
Mayor Ken Welch spoke of his optimism about the community impact of the Hub in his speech. "Embracing innovation is one of the guiding principles of our administration and the lens through which our decisions are made," he explained. "We are committed to continuing our investment in technology, science, and innovation that will benefit the entire city of St. Petersburg and far beyond. Today is a prime example of that commitment."
At the celebration, guests were treated to catering by food trucks Shiso Crispy, St. Petersburg Taco Lady, Horse Soldier, and Engine 53. Guests toured the building itself as well as the University of South Florida’s research vessel, Weatherbird II. They also observed demonstrations such as Saildrone Inc.'s, featuring autonomous floating vehicles that went viral in 2021 for capturing the first video ever taken from inside a category 4 hurricane. Saildrone will be taking advantage of the Hub's waterfront as a launchpad for future operations.
Photos of the Grand Opening are inbound. Exciting things are happening in St. Petersburg... You don’t want to miss out! See our open positions today, or contact us for all your big data tech engineering needs.