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Gainesville gets innovation-centric

Gainesville / Alachua County

The area's economic focus in 2014 will be on a major real estate development and maintaining momentum behind a push to create an infrastructure for young entrepreneurs.

In the northeast part of Alachua County, Plum Creek Timber's "Envision Alachua" project is one of the largest developments in the state.The 65,000-acre project on the eastern side of the city, where development has lagged, is meant to be a "game changer" for the region, says Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Council for Economic Outreach.

Meanwhile, Gainesville will continue to nurture its economy through six business Incubators: Florida Innovation Hub at UF, Sid Martin Biotech Incubator, Santa Fe Center for Innovation and Economic Development, Gainesville Technology Enterprise Development, Starter Space, and Blue Oven Kitchens, a culinary incubator. In 2013, the Gainesville Chamber announced economic development projects totaling 450 high wage jobs with $140 million in new capital investment.

Ocala / Marion County

The area continues to rebound, creating jobs across several economic sectors.Forbes magazine ranked the Ocala MSA No. 5 in the nation for projected job growth. "Not only is Ocala the only MSA in Florida to make the list, but the only MSA east of the Mississippi," says Kevin Sheilley, CEO of the Ocala / Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership.

Part of the rebound is being fueled by distribution and logistics companies. Fed Ex has purchased 150 acres at the Ocala / Marion County Commerce Park where it will build a new ground hub. The facility represents a total investment of $123 million and is expected to be completed by 2016. Meanwhile, R+L Carriers, which has placed its logistics hub in Ocala, is creating at least 250 IT and management jobs.

Three new headquarters relocated to Ocala this year: Ansafone from California; ProFab, a medical device manufacturer from Wisconsin; and most recently, Krausz Industries, an Israeli firm.

Manufacturing also has been growing.Lockheed Martin added 100 employees; Custom Window Systems, under new ownership, has more than doubled with 330 employees; and Cardinal Glass recently completed a $13-million expansion and added 100 employees.

Shadow Health: Among the first firms to graduate from space at the Florida Innovation Hub into a freestanding operation, Shadow Health designs software that creates a "digital patient that can communicate verbally" and interact with nursing students, says David Massias, co-founder and CEO. The company was founded in 2011 and has grown sales rapidly.

Nanotherapeutics: In October, the Alachua biopharmaceutical company broke ground on a $135-million, 165,000-sq.-ft. facility, and is adding 150 jobs.The company has received a $135-million Department of Defense contract to manufacture drugs to treat bioterrorism threats.The contract could be worth up to $358 million over 10 years.

Seven Gun Games: The Ocala mobile app game developer received the Innovator in Business Award from Enterprise Florida and the Governor's Newcomer Award in a Major Market.The company graduated from the Power Plant Business Incubator with 27 employees after starting with seven. "Our greatest focus is to retain the young people who would normally leave the county / state to work in the tech field they trained in," says President and CEO Duane Schor.

Bradford / Union Counties

Business in Union County is stagnant, says Dave Mecusker, Lake Butler city manager, with new businesses merely replacing businesses that have closed. The prison system and its medical center continue to be the largest employer in Union, with 2,500 workers. It opened a work camp last year that created 50 more jobs.

The greatest short-term economic impact expected in Bradford involves the creation of a bypass on U.S. 301 to reduce congestion around Starke.The Florida Department of Transportation says the project is now funded and will be bid in 2016.

Dixie / Levy Counties

"Dixie is on the upswing," says local developer and businessman Dale Herring. Dixie County was awarded $1.2 million from the Department of Transportation for upgrades at the Cross City Airport.A new annex to the Cross City Correctional Institution is being built, creating 100 jobs. Cross City Energy, a wood fuel production company, opened last year and is establishing markets overseas. The Florida Annual Income Survey conducted by Enterprise Florida indicates Dixie is one of only seven Florida counties with a 10% or greater growth in average annual income.

In Levy, Pegasus Farms in Bronson has nearly finished building an aquaponics operation on a 40- acre farm, says David J. Pieklik, executive director of Nature Coast Business Development Council.At completion, it's expected to Provide 50 jobs. The city of Williston awaits a feasibility study, expected by next winter, for a proposed hotel to accommodate increasing numbers of tourists, who attend events that include equestrian competitions. Though scaled down, efforts to build a hospital in Chief and are proceeding.The $30-million project will now have 30 beds, down from 60.

Sumter County

The Sumter County Partnership for Workforce Innovation and Education was developed last year to provide more workforce training to facilitate economic development in the county. New programs developed with various partners include phlebotomy, public health, dispatching and golf course management.Memco, an above ground fuel storage manufacturer, is opening a facility.

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