May 20, 2024
UF-led growth
Carmen Bigles, president and CEO of Coqui RadioPhamaceuticals with Tom Mitchell, vice president for development and alumni affairs at the University of Florida.

2015 Economic Yearbook - North Central

UF-led growth

Jason Garcia | 3/25/2015

Gainesville/Alachua County


UF-Related Growth: The University of Florida's $800-million push to become a top 10 public university by adding faculty, expanding facilities and enhancing research and other programs is reverberating across the regional economy, says Edgar Campa-Palafox, Alachua County's economic development coordinator. The real estate market is accelerating, led by major mixeduse developments such as Celebration Pointe and apartment projects around the campuses of UF and Santa Fe College.

Bio-Cluster: Similarly spurred by UF is a burgeoning bioscience cluster, where companies such as Exactech, which develops orthopedic implant products, and RTI Surgical, which provides surgeons with biologic, metal and synthetic implants. Startup Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals is planning to build a research facility equipped with nuclear reactors to make an isotope used in medical tests.

Plum Creek: Timber giant Plum Creek is expected to resubmit plans this year for "Envision Alachua," a massive development the company is planning on the eastern side of the county. Plum Creek is the largest landowner in Alachua County, with 65,000 acres.

Business to Watch

Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals: Sometime by the end of this year, Coral Gables-based Coquí expects to submit plans to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build nuclear reactors in Gainesville that will produce Molybdendum-99, a medical isotope needed to derive another isotope that's used in an estimated 50,000 medical diagnostic tests per day in the U.S. The company would be the first commercial producer of the isotope in the U.S., says President and CEO Carmen Bigles, who with her husband also owns a cancer center in Puerto Rico. Coquí recently signed an agreement with the University of Florida for 25 acres that will house the facility, which the company expects will cost $330 million in construction and licensing expenses. Bigles says the company has raised money from private investors and hopes to break ground in mid-2017 and begin producing isotopes by 2020.

Person to Watch

W. Kent Fuchs: In January, the University of Florida's 12th president took charge of the state's leading academic institution and one of its most important economic engines. Previously the provost of Cornell University in New York, Fuchs must manage UF's climb to become one of the top 10 public universities in the country.

Ocala/ Marion County


Logistics/Transportation: Ocala is projected to be one of the 40 fastest-growing metro areas in the country though 2010, according to a report last year by IHS Global Insight, making it one of six metro areas in Florida to make the list. Economic- development officials say the logistics and transportation segment is particularly promising: FedEx is building a $170-million distribution hub, while freight shipper R+L Carriers has opened a national IT and logistics-management center.

Manufacturing: Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala/ Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership, says the manufacturing sector is growing, with makers of everything from medical devices to fire-protection equipment expanding or accelerating production. Bolstered by the housing recovery, Ocala-based window-and-door manufacturer Custom Window Systems has grown from about 10 employees two years ago to close to 500 today.

Medical Growth: Sheilley estimates that close to $750 million worth of medical capital spending is under way, led by expansions at Munroe Regional Medical Center, Ocala Regional Medical Center and West Marion Community Hospital.

Business to Watch

FedEx Ground: The subsidiary of Memphis-based shipping giant FedEx broke ground last year on a 400,000-sq.-ft. distribution hub in Ocala. The facility, which is being built on 150 acres, is expected to open next year with an initial processing capability of 15,000 packages a day and about 350 employees. But FedEx Ground could expand its operations, with projections calling for as much as 1 million square feet of warehouse space, 45,000 packages a day and 1,000 workers. "The site's ease of access to major highways, proximity to customers' distribution centers and a strong local community work force make it an ideal location for such an important facility in our network," FedEx Ground Regional Vice President Bob Holcombe said in December.

People to Watch

Mollie and Randy Coates:

The Ocala wife-and-husband team took the golfing world by surprise at the start of the year with the launch of Coates Golf, which bills itself as the only golfing-equipment manufacturer devoted exclusively to female golfers. From inside a renovated former grocery store in Ocala, Coates designs and distributes everything from clubs to gloves, with clothes to debut in the fall. To help publicize the company's launch, Coates signed a three-year contract with the Ladies Professional Golf Association to sponsor a new tournament. The Coates Golf Championship, which was held for the first time Jan. 26-31 at the Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club and attracted some of the world's top female golfers with a championship purse of $1.5 million, is now the first event of the LPGA season.


County Population: 354,413, up 6.9% vs. 2010

Unemployment rate: 6.4%

Per capita income: $36,470

Dixie/Levy Counties

Expansions: Dixie County last year created the Dixie County Economic Development Council, whose goals include luring development to the two-runway, county-owned Cross City Airport. The council is also working on finding a buyer for a closed Georgia-Pacific mill and is setting up a Florida Gateway College Campus after a new high school finishes construction, says H. Dale Herring, a real estate developer who chairs the council. Several manufacturers are expanding in Levy County, including Monterey Boats and Shadow Trailers, says David Pieklik, executive director of the Nature Coast Business Development Council. In addition, a hotel is being developed in Williston, and a new hospital is planned in Chiefland.


County Population: 17,099 , up 4.3% vs. 2010

Unemployment rate: 6.3%

Per capita income: $23,555


County Population: 42,312, up 3.9% vs. 2010

Unemployment rate: 6.0%

Per capita income: $30,267

Bradford/ Union Counties

Asset Mapping: Starke, in Bradford County, was chosen in December by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for the "Competitive Florida Partnership" program, which aims to develop economic development plans for rural areas based on their existing assets. Local civic and business leaders have now begun the asset-mapping phase, says Pam Whittle, president and CEO of the North Florida Regional Chamber of Commerce. A new McDonald's was expected to break ground by February in Lake Butler, the chain's first location in Union County, says Lake Butler City Manager Dave Mecusker. As in other north Florida counties, the prison system is the dominant employer.


County Population: 30,042 , up 5.5% vs. 2010

Unemployment rate: 4.5%

Per capita income: $32,593


County Population: 15,783, up 1.5% vs. 2010

Unemployment rate: 5.0%

Per capita income: $21,482

Sumter County

The Villages: About 75% of Sumter County's economic activity is driven by the Villages, estimates County Administrator Bradley Arnold. The mammoth retirement community is spurring not only residential growth but also commercial development, with the recent construction of a commercial town center within Sumter's borders known as Brownwood Paddock Square. The Villages has also spawned spillover growth, including non-age restricted homes and nursing homes in nearby Wildwood. But Arnold says Sumter is also trying to diversify its economy by attracting more industry and agribusinesses, including expansions by Agromillora and Cutrale Farms.

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