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Economic Indicators for North Central Florida

A UF-city effort focuses on fostering innovation, and signs of growth are cropping up in Marion and Sumter. The rest of the region is struggling to gain its footing.

North Central Florida

Gainesville/Alachua County

Alachua County continues to post the lowest unemployment rate in the region, thanks in part to the high percentage of state government jobs at the University of Florida and Shands Hospital. Gainesville and UF officials are working together to try to grow private-sector jobs and industry. Since some of the most dynamic results have come from UF spinoff companies such as RTI Biologics, Xhale Innovations and Sinmat, the focus is tech.

A formal effort called Innovation Gainesville is working to match startups with investors and is shepherding other projects such as the annual Cade Prize for Innovation, which awards $50,000 in startup funding and a year's rent in the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center. In January, UF opened a business incubator between campus and downtown called Innovation Hub. It's already home to 16 companies and nine service providers, from law firms to venture capital companies. Local leaders and UF officials hope the hub will attract interest in a 40-acre surrounding development called Innovation Square.

Businesses to Watch

Fracture was started by UF grads Alex Theodore (left) and Abhi Lokesh. [Photo: Fracture]

» Fracture: Founded by UF grads Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore, Fracture prints digital photos on glass. Last year, the 2½-year-old Gainesville company sold more than 28,000 "fractures," moved into a new facility downtown and hired its 10th employee.

Alachua Population: 254,470
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.96%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
14.97% 7.97% 38.20% 27.49% 11.37%
Per Capita Income: $37,685

MSA Dec. 2011 Dec. 2010 % Change Jobless Rate
Gainesville 126,858 126,908 -.03% 7.7%
Ocala 116,023 115,166 +.7% 11.6%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes - Single-family, existing-home sales
MSA 2011 Sales 1-Year Change 2011 Price 1-Year Change
Gainesville 1,976 NC $148,500 -8%
Ocala 3,831 +7% $79,500 -10%
Source: Florida Realtors; year-end sales, median price

Alachua County Consumer Bankruptcies
2010 2011 Change
502 452 -10.0%
Source: National Bankruptcy Research Center


Ocala/Marion County

Innovation Hub, which opened in Gainesville in January, already houses 16 companies and nine service providers. [Photo: UF/Eric Zamora]

Marion County and Ocala are finally seeing job growth — after being hammered harder than the rest of the region in the economic downturn. Several of the largest private-sector companies are hiring, including Lockheed Martin, which employs nearly 1,000 at its Silver Springs Shores plant, and Signature Brands, which has hired more than 300 for its new dessert-decorating and popcorn plants in Ocala.

Local officials are determined to diversify the economy and to grow more local tech companies. In February, they opened the community's first business incubator, called The Power Plant because it's housed in a renovated 1916 electric generation plant downtown. The first two resident companies, Ocoos.com and Digital Fury, have already moved in. The city hopes to create an "innovation campus" in the area and has begun work on a new park, downtown lighting and other features to spark that effort.

Businesses to Watch

» Country Meats: The 32-year-old, family-run smoked-meat business in Ocala has seen a surge in sales since offering its smoked meat snacks as a fundraiser for schools and other non-profits. School groups around the nation order the smoked "sticks," which come in 14 flavors. The company increased production from 18,000 sticks to more than 38,000 a day after moving into its new plant.

Marion Population: 343,370
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.99%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
15.99% 5.48% 19.70% 32.09% 26.75%
Per Capita Income: $33,951

Levy/Dixie Counties

Recovery is slow in these rural coastal counties along Florida's "Nature Coast," with anticipated jobs-generating projects such as Progress Energy's nuclear power plant in southern Levy County and a new hospital in Chiefland stalled. Business and community leaders are working on a new strategic plan for the Nature Coast Business Development Council that will include targeting industries that are a good fit with the region, such as biofuels and manufacturing related to the significant pine trade here.

Levy Population: 42,787
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.19%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.50% 5.90% 20.64% 35.65% 20.32%
Per Capita Income: $27,628

Dixie Population: 16,663
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.69%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.07% 4.97% 21.45% 36.61% 20.91%
Per Capita Income: $23,692


Sumter County

The Villages
The Villages development, spanning three counties, is continuing to grow.. [Photo: The Villages]

Sumter County's fortunes are closely tied to The Villages, the top-selling master-planned community in the United States in both 2011 and 2010. New construction there is helping to keep the county's population growth the highest in the region. But Sumter is also poised to grow outside The Villages, with three development of regional impact projects planned, all around the Wildwood area where Interstate 75 and Florida's Turnpike come together: Landstone, with 8,000 homes; Wildwood Springs, with 3,000; and Southern Oaks, with 1,200 homes, 1,500 condos and an assisted living facility. Officials also are working to grow the logistics/transportation companies that are a natural fit with the crossroads.

Sumter Population: 102,416
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.62%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
7.15% 2.61% 12.97% 29.16% 48.10%
Per Capita Income: $27,598

Bradford/Union Counties

New River Correctional Insittue
Bradford and Union counties are trying to become less reliant on employment at prisons. [Photo: Will Dickey/The Times Union]

Long reliant on the state's prison industry for a majority of jobs, Bradford and Union counties are struggling to diversify as the state Department of Corrections closes prisons, including New River Correctional Institution in Raiford, which was to be shuttered in March. FloridaWorks and Santa Fe College, which has a branch campus in Starke, launched a business incubator to try to help local residents create and grow businesses. A regional effort is targeting transportation and other businesses that could have easy access to Jacksonville and Gainesville.

Bradford Population: 29,365
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.35%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.18% 4.89% 28.35% 34.64% 14.94%
Per Capita Income: $31,211

Union Population: 15,738
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.03%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
15.74% 5.52% 29.58% 37.64% 11.53%
Per Capita Income: $20,164