July 29, 2014

Community Portrait

Ocala & Marion County

More than just gathering data, we're trying to capture elements that make each community distinctive.

Downtown Ocala
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

Demographically and historically, Ocala and Marion County are Old Florida — less urban, less diverse, less transient. Only 7% of the population is foreign-born. In 2008, 97% of residents had either lived in the same county a year earlier or moved from another county in Florida. The area’s public image is likewise pastoral, shaped largely by springs, forests and the billion-dollar equine industry. Despite recent inroads by suburban development, the county is still home to more than 70,000 acres of breeding and training farms for all manner of horses, from thoroughbred racers to polo ponies and American Quarter Horses.

Economically, however, Ocala and Marion are trying to play at a more modern tempo, blending the area’s traditional virtues with a more up-to-date business infrastructure. A key goal is a moderated role for the housing sector that has driven growth for several decades and sent subdivisions sprawling into horse country. Economic developers tout the proximity to major transportation arteries and lower costs of building, housing and labor. Three major state universities — USF, UCF and UF — are within about an hour and a half away. The local manufacturing sector, hit hard during the recession, is small but vibrant. Healthcare resources are solid. No less a cutting-edge institution than the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has established a branch in Ocala’s tree-lined downtown, expecting to lure top researchers who value quality-of-life considerations along with the institute’s research capacity. The city is engaging in the very modern civic exercises of “visioning” and “economic gardening” — looking to capitalize on its virtues and generate a different kind of economic horsepower in the new era.

A Community Portrait of Marion County

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