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North Central Fla. Yearbook 2009

North Central

"Making sure the dollars we do have are spent locally is going to make a big difference." — Dean Weaver, chairman of the North Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce

Gainesville / Alachua County

Dean Weaver
Dean Weaver and other officials are encouraging residents and business owners to “shop within a 15-mile radius of where you live.” [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Alachua County is weathering Florida’s economic storm relatively well because of a high percentage of jobs that are tied to healthcare, education and government. All three sectors have been hiring despite the downturn. That trend has slowed, however, and the sectors could shed jobs later this year. At the University of Florida, for example, President Bernie Machen has asked deans and department heads to prepare 10% budget cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

See population, income and job statistics from this region.

The community’s oldest hospital, Alachua General, will close later this year, although its parent, UF-Shands, will open a major cancer hospital on campus around the same time. Business leaders here continue to work toward attracting high-tech companies and nurturing UF spinoffs. One big challenge: Alachua’s low unemployment rate — 5.8% — turns off relocating companies who believe they’ll have a hard time filling positions.

Business to Watch

» UF spinoff WiPower has developed a wireless charge pad for cell phones, PDAs and other small electronic devices. CEO Ryan Tseng, who invented the technology as his senior design project in UF’s electrical and computer engineering department, says consumers may have “wireless power” in the future, the same way they have wireless internet today.

Arup Sen
Arup Sen’s GenoMechanix in Gainesville provides support for research and drug discoveries. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Person to Watch

» Arup Sen, a former researcher at Scripps in La Jolla, Calif., who earned his doctorate in biochemistry from Princeton at 23, runs a genomics-services company in Gainesville called GenoMechanix and is chief scientific officer for Minerals U.S.A. of Reno, Nev., which produces a discovery by Sen that makes minerals highly water soluble. The science has applications not only for human health, but also for desalination. Sen also is CEO and chief scientific officer of a bioethanol company, Sustainable Cellulosic of Texas, and spinoff Sustainable AgroBiotech, which is working in Puerto Rico to create biodiesel fuel from algae.

Ocala / Marion County

A hotbed of home construction and housing-related manufacturing during Florida’s real estate boom, the county is hurting more than its neighbors during the bust. Ocala has lost 3,400 jobs in the past year, including 1,200 in construction and 900 each in manufacturing and retail. Its unemployment rate has crept to 11.6% as companies such as cabinet maker Merillat Industries, Georgia-Pacific plywood and Universal Forest Products laid off significant numbers of workers. Business and political leaders have come up with a “Strategic Plan for Economic Recovery” that includes expanding dislocated-worker funding and training grants. As part of the plan, Marion County commissioners have slashed impact fees in half and streamlined permitting. Meanwhile, Ocala city commissioners next month will unveil plans for a business park at Ocala International Airport. The strategic plan also aims to target smaller, high-tech companies and green industry to diversify the community’s job base.

Business to Watch

Who's Hiring
» Gainesville biotech company Exactech is on a hiring spree after a successful year; revenue increased 30% to $161.7 million in 2008.
» Taylor Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. in Ocala plans to hire 150 financial and insurance brokers in the next three years with an average salary of more than $60,000.
» UF’s new Shands Cancer Hospital needs to fill 1,200 positions by its opening this November. However, some of those will transfer from the community hospital, Alachua General, that Shands is shuttering.
» MaxWest Environmental Systems and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association are building a first-of-its kind gasification plant that will turn horse manure into renewable energy. The Marion County project will need to hire two dozen workers.
» Lockheed Martin plans an $11-million plant expansion in Ocala that will allow it to hire 125 employees at an average salary of $49,327.
» University of Florida professors are upset that the administration is considering layoffs even as it’s advertising for dozens of new faculty, from engineers to cancer researchers. Administrators say it’s a matter of shifting priorities.
» Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies, based in Ocala, has a new subsidiary, Maslow Insurance,that’s helping the company grow despite turmoil in the home-lending industry. The new business is expected to bring some 150 jobs to town in the next three years.

Person to Watch

» Local Lockheed Martin director Brian O’Connor helped the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp. develop its recovery plan. He’ll also be doing some hiring of his own as Lockheed expands locally to about 125 new jobs by 2011.

Sumter County

Sumter County is weathering the economic downturn better than its neighbors. Sitting in a prime seat at Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike, Sumter has a highly diversified industrial base, about 90% of which is comprised of small businesses. A few major company failures won’t devastate the local economy, as has happened in Ocala to the north. Retirees, too, are a godsend in a weak economy. Sumter is home to The Villages, one of the largest retirement communities in the nation. Its residents tend to have a stable income.

Dixie / Levy Counties

Along Florida’s nature coast, Levy and Dixie are looking to capture a “ripple effect” from major projects such as Progress Energy’s nuclear power plant planned for southern Levy. The plant’s education and training facilities could break ground as early as this summer, providing much-needed construction jobs. Also on the drawing board: The new Tri-County Hospital in Chiefland.

Person to Watch

» Amanda Douglas, the new executive director of the Nature Coast Business Development Council, is a Levy County local who went away to study at a seminary and trained as a missionary in Haiti before deciding there was no place she’d rather devote herself to than home. Douglas, 29, is also executive director of the Levy County Enterprise Zone Development Agency. She aims to help focus the Nature Coast on green-job creation and sustainability.

Bradford / Union Counties

Like some other small counties in Florida, Bradford and Union are pooling resources and messages during the economic downturn rather than competing against each another. For example, officials are encouraging residents and business owners to “shop within a 15-mile radius of where you live. Making sure the dollars we do have are spent locally is going to make a big difference,” says Dean Weaver of Watson Realty in Keystone Heights, chairman of the North Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce. Meanwhile, recent economic-development investments are paying off. The chamber’s conference center on U.S. 301 in Starke, owned by the county and paid for with tourist-development funds, has steady bookings throughout the rest of the year.

Person to Watch

» Town council President John Rimes in Worthington Springs points out that Union County has been spared the pain of the economic slowdown because it hardly has any industry to slow. Rimes has helped his town land four state grants: Three for city park upgrades and one for a runway extension at the municipal airport, the Flying Tiger. Now, he’s set his sights on helping the county lure some economic activity.

MSA Jan. 2008 Jan. 2009 % Change Jobless Rate
133,700 -1.3% 5.9%
Ocala 105,400 100,500 -4.6% 11.6%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Single-family, existing-home sales by Realtors
MSA Jan. 2009 Sales 1-Year Change Jan. 2009 Price 1-Year Change
73 -37% $183,300 -5%
Ocala 128 +10% $110,500 -23%
Source: Florida Association of Realtors

 2.4% or higher  1.0% - 2.4%  1.0% or less
COUNTY 2009 Average Annual Growth
2005-2009 Trend
245,352 1.42%
29,886 1.62
15,339 1.27
40,731 2.15
339,036 2.95
76,029 4.62
Union 15,278 1.05
Florida 18,898,835 1.60%

Years of Age (2009)
County 0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+ Total
15.4% 9.2% 36.2% 28.1% 11.1% 245,352
16.1 5.6 32.4 32.3 13.6 29,886
16.5 5.8 26.2 32.5 19.0 15,339
17.1 6.0 25.7 32.6 18.5 40,731
19.9 5.5 24.7 30.0 23.9 339,036
Sumter 12.1 4.5 31.1 30.2 22.2 76,029
Union 14.2 5.0 36.1 35.9 8.9 15,278
Florida 18.0% 6.3% 25.8% 32.7% 17.2% 18,898,835

COUNTY Per Capita Income 2009 Source of Income
Labor Property Transfer
$34,689 76.1% 18.2% 5.6%
25,493 73.4 8.6 18.0
22,072 54.4 14.5 31.1
25,465 58.3 16.9 24.7
32,329 59.4 21.7 18.8
Sumter 26,090 45.0 23.4 31.6
Union 18,481 72.8 11.5 15.6
Florida $40,331 67.6% 23.6% 8.8%