November 25, 2014

Community Portrait

Ocala & Marion County

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

Economic Life

The Villages
The Villages retirement development is a major economic driver in the region. [Photo: Demetrio Carrasco/Newscom]

Economic Engines

» Traditionally, Ocala/Marion has relied on the housing industry to push economic growth, with the Villages development and retiree enclaves along State Road 200 becoming big economic drivers. The dependence on housing meant that the recession hit Marion County hard: Construction-related companies such as the Merillat cabinet-making factory shut down, and the county’s third-largest largest private employer, mortgage giant Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Marion’s unemployment rate hit 15% this spring, compared to the statewide rate of 12.3%. Housing in Marion will continue to be affordable, and the industry will remain a major economic engine, but economic developers are working hard to broaden the area’s base.

» Marion County’s moniker “Horse Capital of the World” is no exaggeration. Marion has more horses and ponies than any other county in the nation, USDA’s 2007 agricultural census confirms. The American Horse Council estimates more than three-fourths of the state’s thoroughbred breeding farms and training centers are concentrated in Marion, occupying some 70,000 acres. The 430 thoroughbred farms and more than 100 training centers generate more than 31,000 jobs and a $1.3-billion economic impact. The county also produces cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens and grows crops ranging from blueberries to peanuts, watermelons and corn.

Marion county horse
Marion has more horses than any other county in the country.

» The trade, transportation and utilities sector is the largest in the county, employing almost a quarter of Marion County workers. Warehousing and distribution companies have continued to expand during the downturn. Regional beer wholesaler Cone Distributing is working on a $15-million expansion and plans to hire around 40.

» Marion’s education and health services sector is the second-largest, encompassing 15% of the county’s workforce.

» Manufacturing is also significant, with recent high-profile expansions that include Signature Brands and Santelli Glass. The county has seen big losses in both paper and chemical manufacturing positions but a 25% gain in higher-paying computer-manufacturing jobs.

» In technology, Marion has a cluster of providers serving the fire protection industry, ranging from E-One, a manufacturer of fire rescue vehicles, to Fire Programs Software. Intellon, a semiconductor manufacturer that was started in Ocala and employs around 60, became a division of California-based Atheros in 2009 but is expected to grow in a new downtown location. The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has opened a research lab branch in a renovated library downtown. Hydromentia, based in Ocala, is marketing patented water treatment technology.

» The Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce, Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp. and the Small Business Development Center are working to establish an economic gardening program, and the city is working with urban planning consultant VHB MillerSellen on a three-year visioning process.

Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition
The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition has opened a branch in downtown Ocala.

Big Employers

Marion County Public Schools, 6,080

Munroe Regional Medical Center, 2,500

Munroe Regional Medical Center
Munroe Regional Medical Center employs 2,500.

State of Florida, 2,500

Walmart, 2,370

Publix Super Markets 1,400

Marion County, 1,539

Ocala Regional Medical Center & West Marion Community Hospital, 1,300

AT&T, 1,000

City of Ocala, 979

E-ONE, fire equipment manufacturing, 850

Federal government, 700

Lockheed Martin, 676

ClosetMaid, 600

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