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North Central Florida

Horse farm
Natural beauty abounds in the manicured pastures and centuries-old oak trees of North Central Florida's renowned horse country. [Photo: Ocala/Marion VCB]

Innovative ideas and entrepreneurial activity thrive in this region known for its competitive cost of living and wealth of natural resources. Home to the University of Florida — this state's oldest and largest public university — North Central offers a highly skilled workforce and the support that emerging companies need to prosper and grow.

A well-developed transportation network ensures that businesses, especially those engaged in logistics and manufacturing, have ready access to vital markets. Multiple highways, rail systems and commercial airports serve the region as do the ports of Jacksonville, Fernandina and Tampa. In Columbia County, where I-10 and I-75 intersect, officials are working with the Port of Jacksonville to create an "inland port" on 2,500 acres near Lake City.

North Central Florida: At A Glance
North Central Florida
Demographics for the North Central Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.

Regional Assets

• College of Central Florida
• Florida Gateway College
• North Florida Community College
• Santa Fe College
• University of Florida

• Gainesville Regional Airport
• Ocala International Airport

Who Lives Here

North Central Florida's labor force exceeds 389,000; its population encompasses a cross section of demographics, including:

Students: More than 50,000 enrolled at the University of Florida alone, plus another 27,770 at this region's four state and community colleges.

Early retirees: Top-level executives and laborers with a strong work ethic who find they are not content in retirement. Many area companies have secured increased intellectual capacity and high levels of experience as early retirees seek new challenges.

Economic Life


» In Marion County, the city of Ocala is partnering with American Fresh Farms (AFF) to bring the emerging technology of "controlled environment agriculture" to the Southeast with the construction of four hydroponic Dutch-style glass greenhouses at Ocala International Airport. In the first of two planned phases, two tomato-growing greenhouses will be built for a capital investment of $30 million.

» Using technology developed at the University of Florida, The Stan Mayfield Biorefinery Pilot Plant in Perry has begun manufacturing ethanol from plant and wood cellulose. The plant is located on the grounds of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cellulose-based specialty products made from wood and cotton.


» Proximity to the University of Florida's research and talent pool is a plus for high-tech companies seeking to capitalize on innovation. In Alachua, the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator has hosted many successful spinoffs since its opening in 1995 and, in downtown Gainesville, startups are finding the facilities and support they need at the newly opened Innovation Hub, a "super incubator" that bridges the gap between campus and community to ease the transfer of technology from laboratory to marketplace.

First Tenants Bring Research to Reality

Shadow Learning Inc.
(dba Shadow Health)

As CEO of Shadow Learning, a virtually based education and training company, David Massias is using his well-honed business skills to revolutionize medical education.Shadow Learning Following discussions with medical school professors, Massias worked with UF researchers to develop simulated technology that would allow doctors-in-training to practice their diagnostic and people skills by interacting with virtual, 3-D patients. Shadow Learning opened at the Innovation Hub in 2011. "This generation is accustomed to gaming and multitasking and interaction with monitors," says Massias. "We filled the void from traditional teaching methods."


Also at the Innovation Hub is NanoPhotonica, a developer of advanced materials for improving picture quality and power consumption on televisions, smart phones and other devices. While you will never purchase products branded "NanoPhotonica," you will almost certainly enjoy the benefits this startup firm brings to the electronics you depend on. Says CEO Chris Morton, Ph.D., "The Innovation Hub is such an excellent facility. Not only will we have all the state-of-the-art labs and enough space to grow, it is an impressive setting for our partners who are utilizing our materials."

[Photo: Shadow Learning]

» Next page: North Central Florida's quality of life and notable employers

Ben Hill Griffith Stadium
Gators rule at University of Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, better known as "The Swamp." [Photo: UF Photography]

Quality of Life

Pretty as a picture: Long before the word "ecotourism" was coined, North Central Florida had already created a tourism industry for nature enthusiasts.

St. Augustine
Victorian-style homes line Ocala's shady streets.
[Photo: Stephen Floethe]
Acres of picturesque rolling horse farms, lakes, rivers, trails and natural springs provide plenty of family-friendly recreational opportunities — diving, paddling, camping, biking, hiking and horseback riding. Arts and culture can be found here too in a full complement of annual festivals, community theatres and museums.

Notable Employers

Agriculture and Forestry

  • Buckeye Technologies Inc., Perry
  • PCS Phosphate, White Springs
  • Pilgrim's Pride, Live Oak
  • Suwannee Lumber Company, Cross City

Logistics and Distribution

Johnson & Johnson Fuel Delivery, Madison


  • CCDA Waters, High Springs
  • DuPont Titanium Technologies, Starke
  • Lockheed Martin Ocala Operations, Ocala
  • Monterey Boats, Williston


  • Shands Hospital, Gainesville