Alachua • Bradford • Columbia • Dixie • Gilchrist • Hamilton • Lafayette • Levy • Madison • Marion • Suwannee • Taylor • Union
First-timers relocating to Florida have many choices to make. Oceanside or inland? Small town or big city? Close to a theme park or next to a beach? Florida’s North Central region has all of these, plus a world-class university offering tons of academic choices, social activities and sporting events year-round. Many of today’s North Central residents were students who liked this place so much, they sank permanent roots here as parents, homeowners, employees and entrepreneurs. Today, they enjoy seamless road and rail connections as well as easy links to two of Florida’s busiest deep-water ports.
INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY
Florida’s North Central region is home to one of the nation’s top-ranked public universities, which, just one year ago, joined the handful of universities nation-wide that have achieved $1 billion in research spending.
A total of 16 colleges at the University of Florida are heavily involved in research with the College of Medicine leading the way. Around $350 million a year, split between UF’s Jacksonville and Gainesville campuses, goes toward research in biomedical and health-related activities, with emphasis on neuroscience, aging, diabetes, cancer and gene therapy. Other areas of research throughout the university include engineering, cybersecurity and transportation.
And something else this university is especially good at: tech transfer, which in layman’s terms is simply the process of moving innovations and discoveries from laboratory to market. UF Innovate serves as a model for universities nation-wide looking to further their tech transfer efforts by connecting investors and industry experts, while at the same time, its business incubators — The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech — take research discoveries from laboratory to market. Since its inception in 1995, UF Innovate has generated more than $10.4 billion in private investments and launched more than 300 startups and to this day, continues to garner notice.
In 2022, organization Heartland Forward issued a report scoring multiple institutions on how well they move science and technology into the marketplace through various means. The University of Florida ranked second best in the nation overall.
Here on the ground, San Felasco Tech City, a live-and-work tech community that is the brainchild of two local CEOs — Mitch Glaeser of the Emory Group Companies and Rich Blaser of Infinite Energy — continues to draw innovative entrepreneurs and their companies to Alachua County. Among recent arrivals is Vobile, a tech company focused on digital asset protection and transaction software, with plans to establish a regional headquarters in Alachua and potentially hire hundreds of employees over the coming years.
Where UF really shines when it comes to research dollars, however, is in agriculture. In fact, UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is the No. 1 funded research engine for agriculture across universities nationwide, and most people don’t even know it.
Currently on tap for development: A $20 million Center for Applied Artificial Intelligence at rural Wimauma in Hillsborough County, part of the institute’s effort to make UF/IFAS the most recognized leader in the application of artificial intelligence for agriculture.
Robert Gilbert, dean for research at UF/IFAS and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, is overseeing the project, which includes a state-of-the-art research shop and ample space for training in AI and robotic technologies for agriculture, as well as offices and open concept work areas.
LOGISTICS, TRANSPORTATION & TRADE
Companies in need of “easy-in, easy-out” logistics will find it in Florida’s North Central. I-75 bisects the region on its way north from Miami to Atlanta, and Gainesville is the halfway point. Another hour to the north is Lake City, providing ready access east to Jacksonville and west to Pensacola and New Orleans.
There’s air access too via Gainesville Regional Airport, which thanks to $1.67 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2022 recently completed terminal upgrades and is poised to receive more than $6.3 million from FAA’s FY23 Airport Improvement Program. Plans call for infrastructure improvements and the purchase of a new aircraft firefighting vehicle. Gainesville Regional is served by three airlines: American, Delta and newly arrived Silver Airways, and provides service to four major hub cities: Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte and Miami.
And now that eastern Alachua County has joined Northeast Florida’s Foreign Trade Zone No. 64, this region can look forward to ready accessibility, cost-saving options for importers and more traffic. Covering more than 5,000 square miles in 10 Northeast Florida counties, FTZ No. 64 is Florida’s largest zone by area and is located in one of the last eligible areas in NE Florida that can be added under federal FTZ guidelines.
Origis Energy of Miami has begun construction of Gainesville’s first large-scale solar project. Located in Archer, about 15 miles west of downtown Gainesville, the 75-megawatt solar farm is expected to open in 2024.
As part of its Clean Energy Connection program throughout Florida, Duke Energy broke ground in March 2023 on its 530-acre Winquepin Renewable Energy Center in Madison County. Anticipated to be operational within nine to 12 months, the 74.9-MW facility will consist of approximately 220,000 solar panels and at peak output will be able to power 23,000 homes.
UF Health — the university’s academic health center — consists of six colleges, 10 primary research centers/institutes and 10 hospitals, including two teaching hospitals and five specialty hospitals … and it’s growing. In spring 2024, UF Health will open its 11th hospital — a three-story, 150,000-square-foot facility in Ocala to include 10 emergency rooms, 10 inpatient rooms, a medical imaging center, rehab clinic and four surgical operating rooms.
Among hospitals statewide on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals 2023-24,” UF Health Shands in Gainesville stands out, earning Top 50 rankings in five specialties: Ear, Nose and Throat (No. 30); Neurology & Neurosurgery (No. 30); Obstetrics & Gynecology (No. 39); Geriatrics (No. 42); and Pulmonary & Lung Surgery (No. 43). Equally impressive is its sister facility — UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital — with Top 50 rankings in three pediatric specialties: Pulmonology (No. 24); Cardiology & Heart Surgery (No. 26); and Neonatology (No. 35).
Also making medical news:
The opening of a Hybrid Cath Lab providing coronary, structural heart and cardiac electrophysiology services at HCA Florida Ocala Hospital, and
The new 11,000-sq.-ft. HCA freestanding Florida Foxwood Emergency Room slated to open in winter 2024.
U.S. News & World Report has listed UF as No. 6 among public research universities and No. 28 among national universities. Also of note: a new study of which universities are best at moving recent discoveries from the lab into the real world, ranked UF No. 1 among public universities.
Academics aside, there’s even more to like about this place. According to Money magazine, the University of Florida is one of the top five best bargains in higher education. The cost of a UF degree comes to just over $85,000 (not factoring in federal and state aid), which is significantly less than the norm. Socially speaking, sports and Greek life are the biggest players on campus. Men’s favorites include golf, outdoor track and field, and football of course, with upward of 80,000 fans packing “The Swamp” on game days.
Other educational institutions serving North Central include:
Santa Fe College in Gainesville, known for its teaching zoo and providing nine bachelor’s degrees and certificates in 13 areas of study.
Central College of Florida offering associates and bachelor's degrees at its main campus in Ocala and at satellite campuses in Levy and Citrus counties.
Florida Gateway College in Lake City providing 60+ academic options ranging from bachelor’s and associate degrees in the humanities, business, education and health sciences to single semester certificates in high-demand occupations such as welding, cosmetology and phlebotomy.
North Florida College with campuses in Madison and Live Oak offering a B.S. in nursing as well as Associate in Arts and Associate in Science transfer degrees and certificate options in more than five specialty occupations.