Economic Yearbook 2008
NORTH CENTRAL: Preparing for the Future
The hottest issue facing the North Central region: The St. Johns River Water Management District’s proposal to build pipelines through much of the area to tap the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers as possible water sources for the region — and possibly for metro Orlando. Dozens of government officials and private groups have protested the idea, citing environmental concerns. They are proposing conservation and desalination efforts instead. Many regional leaders also worry that North Central won’t be able to meet its own future water needs if local water is piped south.
|See population, income and job statistics from this region.
The region also has other water worries, as nitrates continue to degrade Silver, Fanning and Rainbow springs. A lack of rainfall means that Dixie, Union and parts of Alachua, Bradford and Levy counties face new and tougher water restrictions.
Population growth, meanwhile, proves a mixed commercial blessing. Gainesville’s business community, for instance, says local roads, schools and industrial parks need upgrading to keep up with growth and to attract commerce. A special task force survey for Gainesville’s Council for Economic Outreach reveals that during a 15-month period, 42 companies contacted the council about locating in Alachua County, but the county had only enough space for 11 of those projects.
Ocala’s real estate boom — though cooling — had been making it hard to attract businesses to the area as rising land prices and crowded roads increased the cost of doing business and created transportation problems. “Local hospitals and manufacturers find it difficult to attract others to come on down when housing is losing its affordability,” says Pete Tesch, president and CEO of the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp.
North Central’s more rural counties — Sumter, Union, Bradford, Levy, Dixie — hope their lower taxes and low impact fees will lure some of those companies looking for space.
North Central’s population is projected to hit 818,600 by 2010, a 10.6% increase from 2006. With a third of a million residents, Marion County is the region’s most populated, but Sumter, home to much of The Villages, is the fastest-growing. During the 1990s, Sumter was one of five counties in Florida with more than 60% growth and one of three in the past seven years with more that 50%.
GAINESVILLE / ALACHUA COUNTY
Spinoff Record (Gainesville) David Day
» The University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing helped seal 75 deals last year that moved 107 of the university’s discoveries and inventions from the lab to the business community. Last fall, eight spinoff companies raised $60 million, a UF record, to develop pharmaceuticals, medical devices and defense and internet products. David Day, director of the technology and licensing office, expects a robust influx of venture capital to keep him busy in 2008. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
The prospect of layoffs looms large at the University of Florida. The school was forced to cut $34 million last fall and now must trim another $16 million because of a shrinking state budget. The university considered cutting back its summer school schedule but reconsidered after an outcry from students and Gainesville-area businesses.
Concern is also mounting over what passage of Amendment 1, which cuts property taxes, will do to a county where 32.1% of employees depend heavily on government.
But there’s optimism too. The Moffitt Cancer Center, Shands HealthCare and the University of Florida recently announced plans to develop advanced programs in cancer care, research and prevention at Shands at UF, where construction is under way on a $388-million, 500,000-sq.-ft. cancer hospital expected to open in 2009.
Meanwhile, California-based developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities is moving ahead with plans to build The Innovation Center at UF. The 160,000-sq.-ft. facility will house offices and life-science and technology labs that should be a boon for the university’s growing number of spinoffs.
“The biggest stumbling block for companies,” says Tommy McIntosh, who headed a task force that studied Alachua County’s paucity of commercial and industrial space, “is that the time to build doesn’t match up with the time frame of the user” because of local government delays. The solution, he says, is for developers, environmentalists and government officials to identify parcels of land that can be developed and then get concurrency, land use and zoning approvals all lined up so that the property is ready to go. “Most everyone buys into this idea,” says McIntosh. “So far we are not getting much push-back.”