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June 20, 2018

Economic Yearbook 2008

NORTH CENTRAL: Preparing for the Future

John M. Dunn | 4/1/2008
Housing Trend / North Central
COUNTY 2004-05 Starts 2005-06 Starts 2006 Change % Change
Union 43.8% 46 64 39.1%
Bradford 24.4 107 145 35.5
Marion 30.0 7,198 6,784 -5.8
Levy 15.1 259 234 -9.7
Dixie 64.6 79 60 -24.1
Sumter 19.1 5,033 3,795 -24.6
Alachua 40.1 2,591 1,797 -30.6
Source: Office of Economic and Demographic Research, Florida Legislature


Though rural Sumter County is blessed with important roadways and impressive growth, its housing, infrastructure and industrial base have a long way to go. Nonetheless, some companies are expanding. One of them, Eagle Roofing Products Florida, a subsidiary of Burlingame Industries, anticipates it will finish building a 228,000-sq.-ft. concrete Sumterville roof tile manufacturing facility this year. Company executives expect to employ at least 200 at the plant.


» Bradley Arnold, Sumter’s county administrator, is playing a critical role in the county’s development. Chief among his leadership skills is “his administrative experience in helping the county commissioners to be more efficient in setting policies that are consistent in helping the county meet its goals over the next five or 10 years,” says Linda Winchester, interim executive director of the Sumter Economic Development Council and a Sumter County school board member.


Levy County is “ripe for development,” says Amanda Douglas, executive director of the Nature Coast Business Council. However, some locals think their county is still too limited by zoning and property restrictions. The newly established Levy County Enterprise Zone Development Agency that encompasses four towns could help change things. Meanwhile, Progress Energy is studying whether to build a nuclear power plant in the county, and construction on a tricounty hospital is expected to break ground in October. Concern is also growing over Tarmac America’s proposal to create a large-scale rock mine near Levy’s Gulf Coast to provide construction-grade aggregate.
Neighboring Dixie County faces a troubling year now that Georgia Pacific, a major employer for decades, has suspended operations for 80 workers at its mill due to the housing slump. However, the local economy could get a boost if and when the Florida Department of Corrections gets funding to follow through with a plan to build a 600-bed work camp in the county.


» Berlon Weeks, the newest board member of the Levy County Enterprise Zone Development Agency, was elected to the Bronson City Council because he thought the city was ignoring an uncompleted sewer project. “The town was also blighted-looking,” he says. Recently, Weeks hired a wastewater specialist and raised funds from the local school board and Levy County government to complete the sewer lines to attract business. Next, Weeks wants “to extend water and fire hydrants to everyone in town.”


Union County has only has about 15,000 residents and not much in the way of economic development. But Plum Creek Timber Co., which owns 53% of the county’s land, has been talking with Lake Butler city officials about possibly annexing 3,861 acres the company owns into the city for residential development. Plum Creek is also hoping to build an industrial park on 800 acres of its holdings elsewhere in the county.

In Bradford County, Dean Weaver, the incoming chamber chairman and manager of Watson Realty of Keystone Heights, hopes the tricounty marketing plan he recently developed to tout the region’s rural quality of life will attract newcomers.

Meanwhile, if all goes as expected, a million-dollar upgrade at the Keystone Heights Airpark should break ground this spring. Plans call for hangar expansion, fire suppression improvement and two road projects, one of which is expected to open a section of the airport for development as a commercial center.


Worthington Springs City Commission President John Rimes III says Union County will benefit in a recession because, “as far as I’m concerned Union County has been in a recession its entire life. We’ve been behind the curve, but now we’re set to benefit from all those businesses that want to pull out of the high-tax counties.” With no impact fees, a spruced-up industrial park in Worthington Springs and a plan to pave the local airport’s 6,000-foot runway, Rimes says Union County is set to lure industry from places like Gainesville, just 17 miles to the south.


» John Miller gets much of the credit for moving Bradford County forward. Under Miller’s leadership, says Ron Lilly, CEO of the North Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce, “the county now has a conference center — the Gov. Charley E. Johns Conference Center — which has just finished its first year of operation with a positive cash flow.” As chairman of Bradford’s Tourist Development Council and owner of the Bradford County Telegraph newspaper, Miller “can make or break the local direction of recession,” Lilly says.

Tags: North Central

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