Much like the 16 organizations it currently supports, the story behind Central Florida’s burgeoning semiconductor industry cluster is one of ingenuity, collaboration and determination.
Several years ago, regional tech leaders identified a growing need to support the state’s semiconductor industry through targeted economic and talent development support. Since then, the Orlando Economic Partnership (the Partnership) reached out to the Florida High Tech Corridor (The Corridor) to help establish Catalyst Osceola, an initiative to manage the region’s burgeoning semiconductor cluster and build an internationally renowned semiconductor industry presence within the region.
Catalyst Osceola is one of the six projects made possible by the Build Back Better initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). In 2022, a coalition of organizations – Osceola County, the Partnership, The Corridor, the University of Central Florida (UCF), BRIDG, SkyWater Technology, Valencia College and The Osceola Chamber – was awarded $50.8 million from the EDA to boost Central Florida’s semiconductor and microelectronics industry.
Catalyst Osceola: Revolutionizing Semiconductor Cluster Management
Catalyst Osceola is the first-of-its-kind clustering initiative and an essential piece in making the region a leader in semiconductor production and reshoring semiconductor and microelectronics manufacturing operations.
The collaborative approach behind Catalyst Osceola by two distinct organizations is part of what makes it unique. Like a franchise model, the Partnership is managing the cluster, while The Corridor provides support by sharing infrastructure and best practices from its proven industry clustering framework. This model allowed the team to ramp up quickly, building operational capacity, mapping resources and recruiting the first 16 cluster member organizations in its first year—an impressive achievement, according to global industry clustering expert and Cenfluence advisor, Mark Spinoglio.
Once the Partnership attracts new semiconductor companies to Central Florida through relocation and expansion, those companies can access the same resources as other companies involved in Cenfluence, a program of The Corridor started with funding from Orange County Government that empowers companies to grow and find success in the region. Through Cenfluence, The Corridor offers connections to federal agencies with grant funding, a direct line to funding and talent development opportunities with many of the region’s research universities and state colleges, deep knowledge of the entrepreneurial support resources throughout the ecosystem, as well as insights gleaned from supporting more than 130 member companies in four other Cenfluence clusters.
Addressing the Need: Strengthening the Supply Chain, Increasing National Security, Boosting Regional Prosperity
The new cluster is necessitated by three factors, according to Jordan DeWitt, Director of Policy & Strategic Initiatives for the Partnership.
First, the nation’s reliance on semiconductors for everyday operations, including sensitive systems like satellites, rockets, and defense and healthcare technologies, requires a steady supply chain and an available domestic service to guarantee advanced chip access. Clustering aims to strengthen resiliency of the supply chain and ensure its ability to meet demand by bringing companies and resources along the entire process closer to home, from research and development to market delivery.
Additionally, while the U.S.’ capacity to create microelectronics is increasing, its advanced packaging capabilities have not expanded at the same rate. Since Asia Pacific holds the most significant market share, most manufacturers must send materials overseas for packaging, posing a national security risk.
Lastly, the semiconductor cluster creates a path to advance Broad-based Prosperity® throughout the region. Relying heavily on tourism and agriculture, Osceola County is particularly vulnerable to economic shocks, evidenced by the unemployment rate that reached 31% in May 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Central Florida’s tourism industry. Bringing new industries to the region is essential to prevent economic disparity. As companies relocate, start and grow here, they will rely on programs like Valencia College’s Osceola Campus that houses a semiconductor and robotics education program, which is focused on upskilling local workers to produce a robust talent pool.
Harnessing the Power of Clustering: Foster Economic Growth and Company Success
Citing the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, Spinoglio explains that clustering drives success. “Regional economies grow and decline based on their ability to specialize in high-value industries and evolve those specializations over time. That’s what industry clustering does—helps you specialize in high-value industries.”
Osceola County and neighboring areas are primed to encourage the prosperity of a semiconductor cluster. The 16 organizations that have already joined the cluster are reaping benefits from the region’s collaborative ethos, strong partner relationships, government buy-in at the local, state and federal level, and a history of successful industry clustering exemplified by Cenfluence, which oversees four other Cenfluence industry clusters.
Since its inception, Cenfluence has consistently demonstrated the dynamic impacts of clustering. Cluster member companies have cumulatively secured over $31.8 million in funding and identified more than $40 million worth of new business opportunities. The Cenfluence team has directly connected 40 cluster members with regional resources to address their specific needs and supported more than 60 members seeking collaborative research, development and innovation opportunities.
One of those members is Silicon Assurance, a founding member of the semiconductor cluster. Since becoming operational in 2021, Silicon Assurance has benefitted from the support of multiple ecosystem partners, including Cenfluence, UF Innovate and distinguished faculties at UCF and the University of Florida (UF).
As a member of the semiconductor cluster, Silicon Assurance received tailored support that helped company leaders secure more than $907,000 in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II funding for commercial deployment of Silicon Assurance’s Analyz™ software platform that detects, assesses and mitigates hardware security vulnerabilities in system-on-chip designs. The Corridor team advised founder Raj Gautam Dutta, Ph.D. on critical components of the initial submission, as well as responses to the National Science Foundation throughout multiple rounds of questioning.
“With the help of these funds, it is finally time to grow and fulfill the high expectations we have set for ourselves and for our stakeholders,” said Dutta.
Looking Ahead: Reinventing Central Florida through Collaborative Growth and Innovation in the Semiconductor Industry
Silicon Assurance’s journey illustrates how cooperation, industry-specific assistance, and innovative economic development strategies can help reinvent Central Florida as a hub of high-tech economic activity.
The Partnership and The Corridor are confident their collaboration will result in many more wins as the cluster evolves. In its first year, the team emphasized capacity building, research to understand the supply chain and cluster member recruitment, and established the required infrastructure to engage both cluster member companies and the partners offering resources to those companies. Cluster managers are now excited to grow the membership roster and launch activities to foster deeper connections between the member companies and continue providing tailored business services to existing members.
Catalyst Osceola has already showcased the significance of industry clustering in fostering the growth and accomplishments of its member companies. The unique model of this cluster—managed by the Partnership and supported by The Corridor—allows for targeted and efficient attention to different facets of economic development, enhancing the region’s competitiveness in the semiconductor industry on a global scale. With ongoing partnership and support, Catalyst Osceola will continue to grow and deepen its impact on the regional semiconductor industry.
Learn More and Get Involved
Read our resource guide for Central Florida’s semiconductor industry cluster.
Contact us for more information:
For companies seeking to relocate or expand to Florida:
Casey Evans, Orlando Economic Partnership
Senior Director, Economic Development
For local companies seeking clustering services:
Ian McClure, Florida High Tech Corridor