Convergence of roads, rails and runways gives North Central region its economic clout.
CSX rail lines provide easy connections to key markets throughout Florida and the entire southeastern United States.
Some of the nation’s largest retailers and service firms are lining up to build new facilities in Florida’s North Central region, and a number of other companies are relocating all or part of their operations here. The reasons can be summed up in three words: transportation, workforce and affordability.
National companies seeking optimal locations for their distribution centers, for example, are choosing the North Central region because of its rich highway and railway access to points throughout Florida, as well as to Georgia and the entire Southeast. In addition, this region boasts a workforce that is willing and able to fill the hundreds of new jobs these centers bring in, plus a lower cost of living and doing business than many other regions.
North Central Florida is also drawing interest from manufacturing operations, which are bringing their suppliers to the region in large part because of ready access to roads and rail lines. And with two commercial airports — Gainesville Regional Airport in Alachua County and Ocala International Airport in Marion County — the aviation sector is experiencing a growth spurt, too.
Gainesville/ Alachua County
Aviation Is Active
Long known for its strong ties to agriculture and education, Alachua County has lately experienced a flurry of activity in the aviation sector. Most of the recent developments center on Gainesville Regional Airport, where Eclipse Aviation has established a new regional service center for its manufactured light jets. Here too, Dayjet, Eclipse’s largest customer, is opening its first Southeast DayBase and maintenance facility.
Teaming up for potential
“We were looking for a ‘can-do’ attitude and a community that really wanted us,” says Traver Gruen-Kennedy, vice president of Strategic Operations for DayJet. And that’s just what he and his team found in Gainesville. Despite some aggressive recruiting tactics from communities in other states, including a few very attractive incentives, DayJet officials saw, in Alachua County, the partnership and potential they needed.
DayJet had gone shopping for a location in the Southeast with some very specific requirements in mind — the right terrain, proximity to key populations and target markets, a climate that would not necessitate de-icing of planes and a site within at least 50 miles of a major airport. Alachua County had all of these, and one more key factor that proved irresistible: Eclipse Aviation, DayJet’s main supplier, was also talking to the economic development team in Alachua County about plans to open a Southeastern Service Center at the Gainesville Regional Airport.
“Eclipse played a major role in our expansion,” says Gruen-Kennedy. “This is a great opportunity for both companies. We are their largest customers and we will not have far to go for maintenance of our planes.”
DayJet has nine Eclipse planes ready, at a moment’s notice, to pick up and drop off executives across the state. Suppose, for example, that a CEO in Orlando needs to get to Tallahassee for a meeting. DayJet can quickly coordinate the trip, offering tailor-made services that it hopes will make executives think twice before booking commercial flights in the future.
With its $23-million investment in Alachua County, DayJet will bring 60 new jobs, with average annual wages of around $50,000 per year, a significant increase over the county’s average earnings per worker (AEPW). Eclipse Aviation will employ 100 workers, all of whom will earn above the local AEPW.
Gators Grab Headlines
At UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, Dr. Jeffrey Hillman and his Oragenics Inc. are readying a cavity-prevention compound for market. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Florida’s largest university — the University of Florida in Gainesville — continues to garner worldwide attention, and not just in the sports section. While it’s true that both the Gator football and basketball teams snagged national titles in 2007, the University of Florida is becoming increasingly known for its cutting-edge research.
In 2006, the independent economic think tank Milken Institute ranked the University of Florida among the top five universities in the U.S. and Canada most adept at moving an idea out of the laboratory and into the marketplace as a finished product. And more recently, UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator made news with both a story in Business Week magazine and the number 2 spot in the technology category of the National Business Incubation Association’s “Incubator of the Year” awards.