Economic yearbook 2009
Focusing on high-tech companies and nurturing UF spinoffs.
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
|» 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.
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 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.