Tallahassee is home to more than 60 technology-based companies. But most people don’t know that.
Insiders say it’s a common reality they’ve faced and, in their own ways, tried to turn around with some success. Many feel that more can be done.
“I met someone over the past few days who said, ‘Eddie, there’s no tech sector in town,’” said Eddie Gonzalez Lumet, President and CEO of Ruvos, a leading provider of healthcare IT.
He politely disagreed and annoyed several company names: Kikoda, a software company. Agency 223, an online marketing company. Ghost Controls, a manufacturer of gate automation.
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The tech industry is imploding and is credited with producing nearly 13,000 jobs in Tallahassee. However, for example, there are more than 540 computer and math jobs available in the market, according to CareerSource Capital Region.
Despite the growing demand and overall need for technology, employers are frustrated with their inability to find qualified candidates.
A new effort, the Talent Line Management Initiative, better known as TPM, may help. It was created by the American Chamber of Commerce to be transferred to the local level.
The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce is leading the local effort as Gonzalez Lumet and others work to break down barriers and bring more companies into Tallahassee’s hidden tech-based ecosystem.
‘Find people’ to demand technology
In January 2020, Gonzalez Lumet said he sent an email to the Florida Department of Health, alerting the state about the rumble of COVID-19. Within months, the coronavirus devastated the country’s economy and sacked the health care system.
“That paved the way for a lot of new work for us,” Gonzalez Lumet said. He describes his company as “FedEx for Healthcare.” Ruvos securely handles data from laboratories, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.
Throughout the pandemic, his company has been tasked with moving ever-changing COVID-19 data across the country that has helped create dashboards for use by the public and officials in state and local governments and the White House.
The data avalanche has been nonstop for two years: Gonzalez Lumet, sitting far from the massive desktop screen at his desk, admits he’s tired.
However, decision makers rely on data to chart the next step forward. On January 6, for example, he said the United States has conducted more than 1 billion COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began.
It was one of the many statistics related to the epidemic that a Ruvos employee had ruled out and released. More milestones are inevitable as the coronavirus rages on.
The data request forced Ruvos to hire an internal recruiter. Ruvos now has 80 employees working remotely across the country and in a new office in South Africa, doubling its workforce as of 2020.
“We felt we didn’t just need a lot of staff, we wanted to focus on the culture and make sure they fit in,” Gonzalez Lumet said. “We didn’t just want anyone off the street, we wanted to make sure they were going to be with us for a long time.”
As more people rely on technology, Gonzalez Lumet and others said more efforts need to be done to create a capable workforce in the rapidly growing industry.
Ruvos, for example, can hire more people. But the pace of hiring has slowed because targeted candidates have more options: higher wages and the ability to work anywhere in the world.
Gonzalez Lumet said, “For a small company like us when you compete with multinationals, we have to focus on things like (company) culture and family atmosphere. You are not a number. You are a member of the team.”
One of the first steps was to identify the companies and technical staff. In parallel with the Chamber’s research and pursuit of partnerships in the TPM initiative, Gonzalez Lumet and others have formed NAT, or Nerds Around Tallahassee.
It’s an association for tech workers to speak up in the store. More than 40 people attended the first meet and greet at Charlie Park’s rooftop bar, at the AC Hotel by Marriott in Cascades Park.
One of the most unique factors is the collaborative nature of the pipeline effort, said Dustin Rivest, founder and CEO of 223 Agency, an internet marketing company.
He also agreed that there is a competitive nature that is an integral part of the technology industry, particularly in software development. But it is important to share what keeps their employees and trainees going, such as wages, benefits, community involvement, or location.
said Rivest, the candidate running for a District 5 seat on the Lyon County commission.
Reality Check Junior Technicians
Brian Gibson is CEO and founder of I2x Solutions, a full-service IT advisory firm serving some of the world’s largest law firms, along with local and regional insurers and IT support.
Its range of services was launched in 2014, from helping a local business set up a new network and printers to providing personalized support.
I2x Solutions has over a dozen employees all working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Gibson looks to the future, he wants to grow.
He encountered hurdles while using official recruitment channels, such as CareerBuilder and Indeed. However, the problem was not knowing what the employee could do until he was hired.
Gibson decided to give job candidates an instant test to see who is the most qualified for his company.
“I am looking forward to the transition because the job market has exploded,” Gibson said. “The skills gap has exploded. So how do we actually fix a CareerBuilder (and) technical systems problem without taking it completely into our own hands? TPM seems to be a very good approach.”
Much of the work at Gibson surrounds consulting, which requires “a tremendous amount of interpersonal skills,” he said.
“You can’t teach soft skills in colleges. Or let me say, you can, but it doesn’t have to be taught,” Gibson said, introducing a scenario where a college student takes technical classes to learn programming. “These skills are the foundation you need for a basic level, but that’s only half the story.”
Gibson, who earned a degree in information technology from Florida, returns to his university and talks with computer science or information technology students. What shocked them, he said, was when he revealed his early start as a software developer and how he spent less than half of his time programming.
“This is killing them,” Gibson said. “You will develop a professional script, and I will do the programming half the time or less.
“…they’re not willing to do it 60%, 70% of the time. And the other 70% is team dynamics and engaging some of these soft skills like critical thinking and analytical thinking.”
Higher education on board
Back in his office on Killearn Center Boulevard, Gonzalez Lumet spoke about his recent series of meetings with policy makers and employers about a path forward. Florida State University President Richard McCullough is one of them.
“It was great to meet him. He had a passion that I loved for entrepreneurship and technology,” said Gonzalez Lumet. “I left there with goosebumps.”
Before becoming the 16th president of FSU in August, McCullough focused on creating startups from the university. His previous experience includes being the Vice Dean for Research at Harvard University.
Gonzalez Lumet said McCullough requested more information about the tech scene in Tallahassee. He didn’t think McCullough was aware of more than 60 tech companies in Tallahassee.
At Tallahassee Community College, the Talent Management Line assists the school’s efforts to retool technology-based courses to meet the needs of today’s workforce and employer.
Business analysts are in great demand, and they are one of the top five advertised jobs in Tallahassee.
“We worked with TCC to create the syllabus (and provide feedback) for the Business Analyst certification,” Gonzalez Lumet said, adding that it took three months last year to complete the process. “Imagine that … it felt good that they were asking those who hire what we should teach. They put pen to paper and made it happen.”
He said Florida A&M University contributed to the effort as well, particularly with interns working at Rufus.
“They were very good listeners,” he added. “Similar to TCC, they have been very receptive to our ideas. It has been a great working relationship.”
Soon, a new website called Launch Tally is set to go live and will be a one-stop shop to learn more about tech companies in Tallahassee.
While other organizations highlight local businesses, such as the Tallahassee-Lyon County Office of Economic Vibrance, Gonzalez Lumet said “it’s not a complete picture” if only a few companies are listed.
The website’s self-reporting format will allow companies to highlight information and present their business in a positive light.
When asked why he took a leadership role in the effort, Gonzalez Lumet remembers his early days.
In 2004, he launched his company as Uber Operations. The name was changed after a settlement agreement with Uber for travelers regarding brand confusion in 2018.
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Those humble beginnings essentially created it, but he reminded him of how difficult it was to get his foot in the door and foster awareness.
“It was hard to grow,” he said. “It was hard to recruit people.” “It has been difficult to share our story outside of what we do in our small industry.
“I know there are some new companies out there and even some older companies… If people knew more about it, it would help our community.”
Connect with TaMaryn Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow TaMarynWaters on Twitter.
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