UF Innovation Station Sarasota County hires Al Carlson as regional director

In Featured, FLEX, News

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida’s first engineering extension office now has its first director.

Allen “Al” Carlson, retired CEO of Sun Hydraulics, joined the new UF Innovation Station Sarasota County this week as its regional director. In this position he will work closely with the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering to serve the industry, residents and community of Sarasota County and the surrounding region by strengthening economic and workforce development opportunities.

“Mr. Carlson has extensive experience in running a successful engineering and manufacturing company,” said Tom Harmer, Sarasota County administrator. “His background in workforce development, combined with his knowledge of our local community, will allow him to hit the ground running.”

The UF Innovation Station Sarasota County is the first physical extension office of the Florida Engineering Experiment Station, or FLEXStation – an arm of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering that is dedicated to strengthening Florida’s role in the global innovation economy. Carlson will be based in Sarasota and will work closely with the leadership team at UF.

For the past 16 years, Carlson has served as president and CEO of Sun Hydraulics, one of the largest NASDAQ listed companies in Southwest Florida, founded and based in Sarasota County. He has over 40 years experience in the fluid power industry and is one of the most recognized leaders in the region’s business community.

He is active on the boards of Sun Hydraulics Corp., Tervis Tumbler and Mayville Engineering Company, Inc., and is a regent at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He also serves on local and regional boards for Junior Achievement. Carlson is a graduate of the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

“The University of Florida’s engineering college is a highly acclaimed academic institution that focuses on leadership and innovation,” Carlson said. “I am pleased to become a part of UF’s Innovation Station and to help increase and improve the Sarasota region’s technical talent pipeline and future economic development. This initiative is important for both established companies, like Sun Hydraulics, and also for startups that need interns, technicians and degreed engineers.”

In addition to building student talent pipelines with companies in the region, Carlson will lead efforts to engage the entrepreneurial community with UF technology, link local companies to student design projects and prototype development programs, and build collaborations with the region’s existing academic institutions. His primary responsibility is to drive economic impact. 

“Al Carlson has played a key role in creating the Sarasota region’s innovation ecosystem for the past 20 years,” said Cammy Abernathy, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. “He also has a passion for providing opportunities for the next generation. We couldn’t ask for a better person to lead this initiative.”

UF Innovation Station Sarasota County launched earlier this year with public and private funding, including philanthropic support from two foundations in the region. Mark Pritchett, president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, said Al Carlson is a “perfect fit” to lead the Innovation Station.

“This is a great opportunity to combine his passion for engineering and education from his previous work helping Junior Achievement, Project Lead the Way and the Sarasota Chamber’s Talent for Tomorrow. Al will bring the innovation and results we need to build a strong entrepreneurial culture in Sarasota,” Pritchett said.

Teri A. Hansen, president and CEO of the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, said, “Our community is getting a world class leader. There is no one better to lead this effort.”

Carlson plans to expand the UF Innovation Station Sarasota County staff to include program coordinators focused on industry, workforce development and educational collaboration programs.

Read more about FLEXStation and UF Innovation Station Sarasota County.