Carlson to Lead Innovation Station
Al Carlson for the last 16 years led Sun Hydraulics, one of Florida’s most prominent tech manufacturers. Now, he has been hired as the director of the University of Florida Innovation Station, the first extension campus for the university’s College of Engineering. The high-profile gig doesn’t seem like much of a retirement, but it gives Carlson the chance to boost an entire industry in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. “When this came along, I felt my background would really help make this successful,” Carlson said. “It lined up with my interests. It became a natural fit for what I like to do and what they need to do.”
University officials announced the Innovation Station to wide fanfare in March. UF President Kent Fuchs came to Sarasota from Gainesville for a launch event at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota and dubbed the satellite effort “critical for the community.” Carlson spoke at that event as well—he was engaged in talks about the education effort over the last two years—and now will commit his full professional energy to ensuring the station’s success. UF has yet to find a site for Carlson and administrative staff to headquarter, but plans are in place to start offering classes in Fall 2017 at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota’s campus in Venice.
The top priority for the school, according to Carlson, will be increasing the number of trained engineers in the region and the quality of education they receive. While a part of a higher education institution, Carlson said there will be a strong focus on improving engineering classes for middle and high school students in the Sarasota area. Carlson during his time as CEO of Sun Hydraulics and since his retirement has been involved in education programs like Talent4Tomorrow and Junior Achievement. The high-quality grade schools here make it the perfect place to have an extension of an engineering college, he said. “Whether they are at Pine View or Riverview or Booker or Sarasota High, there is a pool of talented kids that have the ability to go to engineering school and would if they knew a little more about it,” he said. By offering classes for students before they enroll at UF, it also provides a gateway to higher education at an affordable cost, he said.
And with business incubators like the HuB always seeking out trained engineers, Carlson has no doubt jobs will be available to anyone who takes advantage of the resources to be offered by the Innovation Station. “We have so many startup companies, but they are crying for more engineers,” he said.