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From Site Selection magazine, May 2024

How Florida Won the Race for Talent

An electrical engineer builds the case for the Sunshine State.

Pasco County offers a high quality of life and is a preferred destination for professional talent wanting a nice place to live and raise a family in the Tampa Bay Area.
Photos courtesy of Pasco EDC

by Ron Starner

he great wealth migration to Florida is producing more than rich retirees sipping margaritas in tiki bars on sun-splashed beaches. It’s fueling a high-tech investment surge that’s transforming America’s largest peninsula into Silicon South.

Dan Tang knows this trend well because he’s part of it. A former longtime Connecticut resident, Tang decided in 2012 that it was time to venture out on his own and launch an upstart electronic component testing business in the small town of Odessa in Pasco County, about 45 minutes north of Tampa.

A dozen years later, Global ETS is cutting the ribbon on its new headquarters in Pasco, hiring more workers and celebrating a successful run that has seen the firm expand its facility footprint both domestically and globally.

Tang says it would not have been possible without the business-friendly environment, technically skilled workforce and generous community support he has found in Florida. In a recent interview with Site Selection, Tang detailed the reasons for his company’s success in west-central Florida and explained why he thinks the Sunshine State is poised to attract many more high-tech business leaders like him.

Global ETSGlobal ETS is a major aerospace and defense supplier based in Odessa in Pasco County, Florida.
Photos courtesy of Global ETS

“When I first came to Florida, the opportunity was there for me to run a small facility,” Tang says. “That was a big change for me. One meeting with an investor changed everything. We decided to start our own venture with a $250,000 investment. We did that in 2012. We rented a small space in Pasco County. We then grew the business each year.”

Tang bought a piece of land in Pasco in 2016 and built a 12,000-sq.-ft. facility. Global ETS has been growing ever since, particularly as a supplier to aviation and aerospace companies. “We now have around 90,000 square feet total worldwide,” he says. “We have 32,000 square feet in three buildings in Pasco.”

On March 12, the Pasco Board of County Commissioners voted to approve JCI funding of $160,000 to Global ETS (GETS) as a job creation bonus. “GETS CEO Dan Tang has always had an eye for when to scale and what approaches to take as it relates to building his business,” said Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco EDC. “In addition to the rapid growth the company is experiencing in Pasco County, GETS has opened locations in Ontario, California, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Taiwan since 2022. This is a company that isn’t going to slow down any time soon, and we’re excited to show our support any way we can.”

GETS acquired three new facilities in Pasco over the past 18 months to grow the company’s global microchip testing operation. GETS has invested over $5 million in these new plants and hired more than 100 new employees at an average annual wage of more than $95,000. Since 2020, GETS has acquired more than 450 new customers worldwide while increasing its aerospace and defense market from 10% to 60%.

“Pasco EDC has been instrumental to the success of Global ETS, offering invaluable guidance and customized incentives that have reinforced our decision to establish our headquarters in Pasco County,” said Tang. “As a business owner, feeling supported by the community is crucial, and thanks to Pasco EDC, we’re not just a business here; we’re part of a thriving community committed to mutual growth.”

Pasco has been growing along with the company. Pasco County’s population grew by 9% from 2020 to 2023. Today, it has 656,851 people. It is also part of a rapidly growing metro area. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater MSA has added 740,000 new residents since 2010; and by 2026, the metro area is expected to have 5.3 million people. The Tampa Bay Area is growing at a rate twice that of the country.

Tang says he would not choose to build his business or raise his family anyplace else. “I was a child when my family fled Vietnam in the late 1970s,” he says. “My father was taken to a re-education camp in Vietnam because he did not leave in 1975 when Saigon fell. Back then, you either died from starvation or malaria in the jungle, but he survived there for two years. It was a tough time. I was young, but I still remember it.”

The long and winding path to the United States of America was not an easy one for the Tang family, but they eventually made it safely to Connecticut. Tang went to school, learned English and eventually graduated with a quality education from a good college. His upbringing, he says, taught him to work hard, be willing to take risks and always believe that a better outcome was ahead.

Now, at age 51, he is living that dream in Florida. “Today, we have close to 200 employees in Pasco and over 300 employees worldwide,” says Tang. “We’re starting a second company, Blue OptiView LLC. It is an AI software firm and will also be here in Pasco. We are a private company, but we are looking to expand. We cover every market — Asia, Europe, the U.S., etc. We have a bright future in front of us.”

Firms Follow the Talent Migration

Josh Wright, executive vice president of growth, education and government at Lightcast, the Moscow, Idaho-based workforce data tracking company, says that Florida is in a league of its own when it comes to talent attraction. In the firm’s annual Talent Attraction Scorecard, Florida ranked No. 1 in America in both 2022 and 2023.

“This is not an anomaly,” says Wright. “Florida has been a strong performer in each of the last two years. Led by strong migration, Florida has popped to the top. Florida has been building a powerhouse around talent attraction for years. We look at net migration; overall job growth; skilled occupations job growth; growth in educational attainment over age 25; annual job openings per capita over the last five years; and regional competitiveness due to unique factors in each state.”

Not only is Florida ranked first overall, says Wright; it ranks second in regional state competitiveness and second in net migration. “Florida ranks in the top five across the board, and that is reflected at the local level too.”

In the current Talent Attraction Scorecard County Rankings, three Florida counties make the top 10 out of 616 counties with 100,000-plus people in the country: Hillsborough, Lee and Polk. They rank seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. Pasco ranks No. 15.

Six other Florida counties make the top 30: Sarasota (20); St. Johns (22); Palm Beach (23); Brevard (24); Sumter (26) and Manatee (30). Seven other Florida counties place in the top 50: Collier (33); Volusia (35); Duval (36); Lake (38); St. Lucie (40); Osceola (41); and Marion (47). Duval, which is Jacksonville, ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in 2019.

Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee are part of the greater Tampa Bay area. They include boomtowns like Lakeland, North Port, Bradenton, Sarasota, Clearwater and St. Pete. From 2022 to 2023, the Tampa Bay area ranked No. 5 in the nation in population growth. 

From 2018 to 2022, seven Florida metro areas ranked among the 20 fastest-growing MSAs in population, including No. 1 The Villages, which grew by 3.9%. Other top 20 performers are Lakeland-Winter Haven (4); Punta Gorda (10); Cape Coral-Fort Myers (12); North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton (13); Port St. Lucie (16); and Ocala (20).

“Florida has been picking up momentum,” says Wright. “The numbers have been consistent. Pockets of Florida, Texas and Arizona are the strongest in the country for talent attraction and job growth.”

Wright adds that “the ripple effect for Florida is going to be profound. When you grow your talent base, it has a profound impact on productivity, research and entrepreneurial activity. That ripple effect of increased productivity and increased entrepreneurship adds to the local economy. Florida is leading the country in that today because Florida has a very diverse economic base.”

Dr. William Fruth, founder of in Palm City, Florida, agrees. Lakeland-Winter Haven, or Polk County, on the Interstate 4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando is poised to be one of Florida’s big economic winners, says Fruth.

“Lakeland-Winter Haven has long been an agricultural area and inexpensive location for retirees and commuters working in the more expensive Orange County to the east,” he says. “However, industry has located to the county over the last 10 to 15 years.”

Between 2012 and 2022, according to Fruth, Polk County added 5,000 manufacturing jobs while the warehouse-distribution industry grew steadily. Millions of square feet of new distribution space were constructed during that decade. Employment in the transportation sector increased from 15,833 in 2012 to 44,132 in 2022.

This expansion in transportation and manufacturing has turned Polk into a rising economic juggernaut in Central Florida. Once known primarily as the corporate headquarters of Publix and the water-skiing capital of the world, Polk is now home to a multi-faceted economy that attracts talent. The fact that Polk has Florida’s newest 4-year state university — Florida Polytechnic on I-4 near Auburndale — doesn’t hurt either.

Other markets to watch, notes Fruth, are Port St. Lucie, Ocala, Punta Gorda, Cape Coral and North Port. Don’t sleep on The Villages either, he says. “The Villages has had the fastest population growth of any MSA for the last 20 years. It is an absolute mecca for people wanting to retire to Florida. Google estimates that it has between 40,000 and 70,000 golf carts, as there are almost as many miles of roadway for golf carts as vehicles. There is every indication the growth will continue.”

‘This is a High-Tech Area’

Tang says he welcomes Florida’s growth because he knows that growth brings with it loads of fresh, young talent. “Older engineers can be set in their ways,” he says. “They do not think outside the box. With all this new talent, they come with a different mindset and a different way of thinking. I always try to embrace that.”

Dan Tang

He also likes the fact that Pasco, much like the surrounding Tampa Bay Area, is embracing the influx of new technology companies. “Being in Pasco, there is no regret,” he says. “I am very happy that I built our base here. This is a high-tech area. There are a lot of aerospace companies in Florida. A lot of these manufacturers use electronic components, and they need the services that we supply.”

Tang adds that “it is easier to do business in Florida. There are less restrictions here. FDI is encouraged. The other key asset is the University of South Florida in Tampa. It is a major university. It has one of the best electrical engineering programs in the country. They produce a good talent pool that we can pull from. Finding good talent is easy here, and the cost of living is manageable.”

Would he do it again if he had to start all over? No question, he says.

“The best thing that ever happened to me,” he says, “was taking a big risk and moving to Florida.” 

Oranges on the Roadside:
A Reporter’s Perspective

As someone who grew up in the Kathleen area of Lakeland, studied journalism at the branch campus of USF in Highland City, and worked as a reporter for the Winter Haven News Chief, I have seen firsthand the transformation of the Polk economy. When I was 10, I picked up oranges off the side of Frontage Road as they fell from overloaded trucks bound for the Kraft juice plant just down the street off I-4. That was the Polk economy then: citrus, trucking, and the processing and shipping of products gleaned from groves and mines.

Today, the County Line Road that was home to farms of strawberry fields and grapefruit groves now hosts gigantic warehouses for Amazon, Publix and other name-brand companies. You’re more apt to run into a Fortune 500 executive than a phosphate miner in the Polk County of 2024. And that stretch of U.S. Highway 27 from Davenport to Frostproof? It’s now home to some of the finest master-planned communities in America. POLICOM Founder Dr. William Fruth saw all of this coming years ago; and his analysis of rising metro areas is confirmed by the proliferation of high-end eateries, luxury resorts and manicured golf courses. — Ron Starner

Lilium Shuttle FlyoverLilium is a new eVTOL company based in Orlando. It expects to deliver its first jet in 2026.
Photos courtesy of Lilium

Aerospace Gets a Vertical Lift in Orlando

After years of planning, research and development, Lilium is about to see liftoff in Orlando.

Designed as a vertical takeoff air shuttle, the new Lilium aircraft is an all-electric plane that is commonly called an eVTOL — an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

The fact that the company producing this vehicle chose Orlando as its hub speaks volumes about the future of Central Florida as an aerospace cluster. Located in Lake Nona, Lilium is part of an emerging “Orlando Aerotropolis” that is attracting mobility companies from all over to an area close to “The Happiest Place on Earth” — i.e. Disney World.

“For some time, we thought about where the right place is to launch a shuttle service,” says Matt Broffman, head of partnerships and network development for the Americas at Lilium Aviation. “Orlando and the aerotropolis provide an amazing hub for this service. Our primary goal is to enable passengers to reach any city in Florida at long-range speeds.”

Located at Lake Nona next to Orlando International Airport, Lilium is based in the geographic center of Florida’s four largest metro areas: Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa and Orlando. “We can get people at 175 miles per hour to Tampa or St. Petersburg or the beach or wherever they need to be,” says Broffman. “This is about replacing the two-hour car trip with a 30-minute trip. We will provide short, sustainable, electric-driven trips by air from city to city.”

For commuters and tourists tired of congestion on Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando, an air shuttle saves valuable time. “We’re fortunate to have a great airport as a neighbor,” says Broffman. “We have begun assembly of our aircraft in Munich, Germany, for delivery in 2026. We are going through the safety approval process with the equivalent of the FAA in Europe. This is how advanced aerial mobility will play out.”

Lake Nona developer Tavistock played a pivotal role in Lilium’s location decision. “Tavistock is a developer who said, ‘We think this is how people will move in the future,’ ” Broffman says. “The city government said it wanted a seat at the table and worked to make it happen in Orlando. We are based in a state that works to make business happen.”

Lilium Found Differentiators in Florida

Broffman says the firm’s business model is to sell aircraft to local operators who want to provide this kind of air shuttle service in Orlando and other Florida cities. “There are lots of categories of users — leisure travelers, business travelers and local users,” he adds. “People who live in Orlando and need to get to places on the weekend will be able to use this service. Right now, people will get in their car and drive to the closest beach. If you hop in one of our jets, you can go to any beach you want.”

When I asked Broffman why Florida, why Orlando and why Lake Nona, he listed these factors: “Orlando has great operating weather. It has transportation challenges we can help solve. All roads lead to Lake Nona. It is a hard drive to Tampa. Cities are placed far apart on the peninsula. Orlando is centrally located in Florida. Growth is happening here. And the city, the airport and the aerotropolis are all collaborating.”

Broffman singled out Florida as uniquely positioned to boost this industry.

“Florida has a business-friendly environment,” he says. “We had talks at the beginning with the Florida Department of Transportation and the Governor’s Office. From a policy perspective, we knew what needed to happen. We received a commitment from the Florida House of Representatives for certainty in how this would play out. The local support has been key too. The people engaged in permitting and planning ask, ‘What can Orlando do for you? How can we ensure that you will be successful?’ ”

Matt Broffman Quote

Priority markets for Lilium are Florida, Texas, Southern California and the Northeast Corridor. “None of the other states had the same mixture of developer and community support that we saw in Central Florida,” says Broffman. “We will see a lot of new developments happening in this space. MCO [Orlando Airport] has stepped up to ensure this will happen. Our infrastructure partners are involved too. We need multiple verti-ports. One guy has three leases for these in Florida right now. Serial No. 1 jet is being assembled. We will have humans in flight in our vehicle this year.”

Broffman says this new form of regional city-to-city air service has site selection implications too. “Air service is a challenge in site selection,” he notes. “A lot of cities struggle to land companies because of a lack of regional air service. With a Lilium jet, you could, at the corporate headquarters, offer direct air service to a hub airport. Cities that have lacked direct air service can benefit from this new form of travel.”

Federal Contracts Beat a Path to Orlando

Lilium is far from alone. Advanced mobility options are flocking to Orlando. Brightline Orlando, for example, opened in the fall of 2023 and provides high-speed rail service to South Florida destinations like Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Beep Mobility Solutions is also on the move, expanding its headquarters and control center in Lake Nona Town Center for its autonomous shuttles; and NUVIEW Space has officially established its headquarters in Lake Nona’s newest office building. NUVIEW is pioneering the world’s first commercial LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) satellite constellation to provide a continuously updated global 3D point cloud from space.

Tom Taylor, managing director of aerospace and defense for JLL, says that Greater Orlando is one of the fastest-rising aerospace markets in the country.

“Orlando has deep roots in the aerospace industry,” he says. “There is a cluster of some of the biggest contractors in America there — Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Aerojet and others. Orlando is an atmosphere that is conducive to growth in this industry. It has a good pipeline of talent from the University of Central Florida, Florida Polytechnic University, Florida Tech and Embry Riddle. It offers low taxes and available, affordable land.”

Proximity to the Florida Space Coast in nearby Brevard County is a boon to Orlando as well, notes Taylor.

“Look at the spending in the space industry. Look at the budgets of the U.S. Space Force and Department of Defense. We are seeing significant increases in the budget for NASA and other agencies. That translates into more work for aerospace companies in Central Florida.”

In a recent aerospace manufacturing report by Bloomberg and Lightcast, Orlando ranked just below Tucson and Los Angeles in total federal contract volume from 2019 to 2023. Orlando ranked No. 8 nationally in that study. Orlando also ranked among the top 12 markets in aerospace employment.

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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