April 23, 2014

Community Portrait

Gainesville

| 2/1/2011

Who Lives Here?

Downtown Gainesville
Downtown Gainesville is a far cry from the ghost town it was in the early 1980s. [Photo: Stephen Morton/The Gainesville Sun]

» Gainesville: 116,615

» Alachua County: 243,574

» Gainesville is home to the youngest population in Florida, with a median age of 23, compared with the statewide median of 40.

» 43% of residents have a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 25% of those statewide.

» Gainesville's population grew 22% between 2000 and 2009, faster than Florida's statewide 16% growth in those years.

» Alachua County's unemployment rate, just below 8%, has remained among the lowest in Florida throughout the economic downturn, but the jobs aren't necessarily high-paying: Median household income in Gainesville is $27,420, compared with the statewide median of $44,736.

» Gainesville's African-American population is 22%, higher than the statewide average of 16%, and Gainesville's black community lags in economic opportunity compared with the community overall. Only 5% of businesses are black-owned, slightly below the state average.

» Gainesville and Alachua County have an unusually high rate of poverty, especially among children. The poverty rate in Gainesville is 35%. In Alachua County, it's 24%. The public schools report that more than half of the county's schoolchildren qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Politics

On election-day maps, Alachua County invariably pops out as a blue island of Democratic votes in north Florida's sea of red. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink took 60% of the county's vote last November. In presidential elections, 60% of the county voted for Obama in 2008; 56% for Kerry in 2004; 55% for Gore in 2000. Gainesville voters drive the heavily Democratic numbers, while the county's outlying, more rural communities tend to be more conservative.

Alachua and High Springs

The second- and third-largest incorporated cities in Alachua County are Alachua, with 9,500 residents, and High Springs, with 5,000. Known for their historic, small-town charm and natural beauty, both cities straddle U.S. 441 just north of Gainesville. (Running a close third is another small town, Newberry, where Gainesville's western suburban sprawl meets rural horse farms. The county's other incorporated towns are Archer, Hawthorne, LaCrosse, Micanopy and Waldo.)

High Springs is known locally for antiques and worldwide among scuba divers and snorkelers for grottoed springs such as Ginnie Springs, which Jacques Cousteau reportedly described as "visibility forever."

Alachua is home to the 7,000-acre San Felasco Hammock State Preserve and its popular mountain-biking and horseback-riding trails. At the intersection of Interstate 75 and U.S. 441, the town is a magnet for distribution centers including those for Walmart and Dollar Stores.

But the town also has become a hub for young biotechnology companies. UF built its Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator there in 1995. Since then, the incubator has admitted 40 small biotech spinoffs. Thirty of them have succeeded, including RTI Biologics, now a 1,100-employee public company that remains headquartered in Progress Corporate Park next door to the incubator. Other incubator graduates that stuck around include AxoGen and Nanotherapeutics. The industry's workforce demands have drawn innovative biotech training to the small town. Santa Fe College opened its Perry Center for Emerging Technologies across U.S. 441 from the park, and Santa Fe High School launched its Institute for Biotechnology in a new science building just down the highway.


Undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau reportedly said Ginnie Springs, popular among divers and snorkelers, has "visibility forever." [Photo: Gene Bednarek]

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