Economic Yearbook 2008
Development Push (Ocala) Randy Ewers
» Ocala Mayor Randy Ewers, an engineer at Class 1, a maker of fire engine equipment, is pushing for development on 658 acres at the Ocala municipal airport. In addition, he wants the city to annex 600 acres of horse farm that never developed into a planned racetrack and use it for industrial and commercial purposes. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
OCALA / MARION COUNTY
South Florida developer Jorge Gutman tore up a parking lot and was supposed to have renovated an old Sprint building near Ocala’s town center to build a $25-million mix of trendy restaurants, retail shops and town homes. The project, however, collapsed in a welter of litigation. City officials hope to eventually turn the project over to another developer. Another downtown deal turned out much better, however: After two years of talks, Pensacola-based Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition will buy the old library building next door and set up a research lab.
Meanwhile, Marion County’s building department has eliminated 65 positions since June because of a downturn in new single-family construction.
MODEL HIGH SCHOOL
Marion Technical Institute was recently cited as one of the nation’s “25 Model High Schools” by the International Center for Leadership in Education for its technology-based education.
» Defense spending assures Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Ocala a solid future, but the outlook is less certain for other companies. As the chairman-elect of the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp., Brian O’Connor, site director at the Lockheed plant, wants the EDC to cultivate more overseas markets. “We’re looking at twinning with Newbridge, Ireland, to give Ocala more of an international presence,” he says. Local manufacturers such as Sunair Electronic, American Spaceframe Fabricators and E-One “may benefit from a weaker U.S. dollar because they market products internationally.”
» Ron Barnwell is executive director of Heart of Florida Regional Coalition, an alliance of 45 business, government, non-profit and education entities set up by the presidents of Central Florida Community College in Ocala and Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. Barnwell leads the coalition’s effort to forge a regional force on behalf of Marion and Alachua and neighboring counties to confront economic development, transportation and other issues. Among other things, the group is studying water needs and soliciting business prospects to North Central. “The thrust of my job,” says Barnwell, “is getting the right leadership to come to the table to develop working solutions that we can offer state legislators, speaking with one voice.”