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Making the Grade

When Wilson Bradshaw arrived last November to take the helm of Florida Gulf Coast University, he promised to work with the business community to define Southwest Florida’s needs and develop a bright economic future. His first year has been marked by an economy that continues to tumble with the housing market and by budget cuts to the university. But he’s earning high marks as president of Florida’s 10th state university and effusive praise from local business leaders, as well as some suggestions for improvement for him and the university.

Bradshaw sees FGCU’s role as a catalyst for discussion and action to steer economic development in Southwest Florida, a role that will expand in the future. "In the first 10 years, you try to establish yourself as a university," he says. In its second decade, the university can focus more on meeting the needs of the area’s workforce and helping to carve Southwest Florida’s niche in the global economy, he says.

"Dr. Bradshaw has embraced that initiative with strong support and vigor, and I couldn’t be more pleased," says Richard Botthof, head of the Regional Business Alliance of Southwest Florida, which includes about 50 local current and former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. "FGCU has always been very supportive and engaged in promoting economic development, job creation, all the necessary things to create a vibrant economy," Botthof says.

We asked leaders in the business community to evaluate Bradshaw’s performance so far, and they identified six areas where he has distinguished himself.

Outreach: Bradshaw has combed the community to meet with business and civic groups throughout Southwest Florida. That personal contact has helped him meet key people, while helping to advance his agenda. Beyond the typical grin and grab, he’s asking, "What can we do for you to meet your needs?"

"I think Bradshaw’s been doing a good job knocking himself out with substance and sending people out not only to say ‘hello,’ but to get deeply engaged," says Michael Reagen, president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, which has 2,165 members. "Not only puff stuff, but very direct, sincere wanting to be more involved in the community."

Openness: Bradshaw listens and is open to others’ ideas. He gets three As—articulate, affable, accessible.

"When he gave his inaugural address, he really set the tone of walking together into the future. I think he demonstrates that every day," says Pat Riley, executive director of the Alliance of Educational Leaders, which includes leaders of educational systems in Southwest Florida’s five counties. "Actually, the second day he was here, he co-chaired a meeting the alliance had with business leaders discussing how we can better respond to the needs of business and how business can better access what education offers," she says. "He’s easy to access and easy to talk to."

Follow-through: It’s one thing to listen. It’s another to follow through. Bradshaw puts people in place to continue the dialogue after he leaves. For example, David Kakkuri, director of FGCU’s Center for Leadership and Innovation, is now on the Naples Chamber board of directors, Reagen says. Reagen has had "good, solid conversations" with Kakkuri and Steven Bloomberg, executive director of FGCU’s continuing education and off-campus programs, about doing programs together.

Kakkuri is also a member of the task force on economic diversification for The Horizon Council, a 62-member advisory group to the Lee County Commission on economic development. "There is so much energy being brought to the table" by FGCU in terms of creativity and desire to increase higher-wage, high-skilled, clean business in Lee County, says Edison National Bank president Robbie Roepstorff, a former Horizon Council chairwoman and current chairwoman of the Horizon Foundation, a fund-raising arm for business expansion and retention.

Education partnerships: Bradshaw has forged relationships with leaders of other local education institutions to generate ideas, enhance programs and to pool their resources.

"President Walker and I have developed a very, very good relationship," Bradshaw says of Ken Walker, the district president of Edison State College. "We’re working to expand our visibility in Charlotte County through that partnership."

Bradshaw says he has also cultivated a good relationship with James Browder, superintendent of Lee County schools. "All of us are impacted by budget cuts," Bradshaw says. "We can find ways to work together for the mutual benefit of everyone."

International presence: Presenting FGCU as a global institution is a goal for the university, Bradshaw says.

Leonardo Garcia, executive director of the 1,400-member Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, likes that goal and appreciates that Bradshaw was tapped for Gov. Charlie Crist’s trade mission delegation to Europe. "We believe that with a global economy, that is important not only for the university, but also for the region," Garcia says.

The goal for that United Kingdom visit in July was to discuss aviation, aerospace and alternative energy sources. FGCU’s role focused on researching renewable, sustainable sources of energy, and the group wanted to learn what the U.K. was doing as stewards of the environment, Bradshaw says.

Environmental commitment: In this arena, Bradshaw walks the walk and talks the talk. "He has really embraced the environmental stewardship of the university," says Riley. He insisted on a hybrid automobile, and the FGCU Foundation acquired a Toyota Highlander Hybrid sport utility vehicle as his official vehicle.

"As you look around our campus, new buildings are LEED certified," meeting the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, Bradshaw says. In addition, the university system is building a field of solar panels to generate electricity throughout campus. It will provide a significant amount of power to the university, replacing some use of non-renewable energy sources. "The solar field is not a gimmick," Bradshaw says.

Bradshaw seems to have boundless energy and enthusiasm for his job.

"This is a very exciting place to be. I’ve been in higher education all my life. I’ve not seen a phenomenon like FGCU," he says, referring to the school’s rapid growth in students, infrastructure and quality.

Since opening with seven buildings in 1997, FGCU has grown to 64 buildings and 2 million square feet of classroom, office, laboratory, residence-hall and support-services space. The student body has swelled to more than 10,000, and is expected to increase another 50 percent in the next five years, in spite of the lagging economy.

Bradshaw has had to deal with state budget cuts, with more to come. The university’s budget was cut by 4 percent in July, the beginning of this fiscal year, with another 4 percent to be trimmed from its operating funds during the year.

The result is that FGCU has had to delay implementing some new programs and seeking approval for others. A proposed journalism program and master’s degrees in mathematics and environmental studies are stalled. They could provide resources that would be responsive to the economic needs of the five-county region, Bradshaw says.

However, FGCU is going forward with a doctorate in physical therapy, its first professional doctoral program.

"We’re a strong institution. We’re not in crisis," Bradshaw says. "We have to think critically how to move forward, to create a creative environment in the current economic climate."

As Bradshaw starts his second year as president, FGCU’s growth momentum may have slowed, but it hasn’t stopped. The new Lutgert College of Business and the Herbert J. Sugden Hall for resort and hospitality management debuted this semester. Holmes Hall, home of the U.A. Whitaker School of Engineering and Computing, will open in January.

"I think this university and administration are on a great path," Bradshaw says. "We are not perfect, but every day we are committed to find ways to be better. I think you’re going to find that in this administration. You have to be creative. You have to be open to new ideas. That’s what we have to do here at FGCU."

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