May 20, 2024
A focus on rural Florida

Photo: Norma Lopez Molina

Up Front - The Publisher's Column

A focus on rural Florida

Andrew P. Corty | 8/28/2017

As the Statewide piece in this issue points out, about half of Florida’s 67 counties are considered rural and economically stressed. The Around the State section highlights issues facing businesses and economic leaders in some of these counties.

We also look at agricultural and rural areas in urbanized counties. In Miami-Dade, for example, ornamental plants are replacing vegetable farms. Despite the high-density reputation of the county, it ranks first in Florida in the production of ornamental plants and No. 2 nationwide in plant and tree nurseries.

Elsewhere in south Florida, a record 120 million pounds of rice was planted this year in the 470,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area. In southwest Florida, a Manatee County farmer is taking an innovative approach to growing potatoes. Meanwhile, Lake County is taking advantage of its abundance of undeveloped land to create niches for sporting events such as disc golf.

In north-central Florida, an effort is underway to expand phosphate mining in Union and Bradford counties. In the state’s northwest, AgReserves, a unit of the Mormon Church that acquired hundreds of thousands of acres from St. Joe Co., is turning former timber land to pasture for its cattle. There’s plenty more on the Mormon Church. See the cover story on the church’s Deseret Ranch in east-central Florida and its plan to develop part of its acreage into housing, commercial and retail over the coming decades.

Meanwhile, Amy Martinez’s monthly Of Counsel column follows through on the rural theme by focusing on Florida Rural Legal Services, which handles cases that most for-profit law firms shy away from because the cost of litigation is higher than the claim.

Researchers statewide are making headway into many areas of science. One shining example is the Jupiter-based Max Planck Florida Institute, the only branch of the famous Max Planck Society outside Europe. There, top scientists are studying the brain, using the newest microscope that can peer down to 20 nanometers, about a thousandth the width of a human hair. Max Planck is located next to Scripps Florida on the campus of Florida Atlantic University, where all three share equipment.

Research efforts there are only the tip of the iceberg. Dozens of Florida institutions receive National Science Foundation or National Institutes of Health grants. This year, the total is some $450 million.

Elsewhere in the Research Florida package, you will learn about UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute (pathogens are the viruses or bacteria that cause infectious diseases), where diseases like Zika are studied; FSU’s effort to study autism; and the collaboration between the Mayo Clinic and Sanford Burnham Prebys to find a potential solution to Parkinson’s.

Energy is big business in Florida, with four huge investor-owned utilities and another 50 municipal providers led by heavyweights such as JEA in Jacksonville and OUC in Orlando, along with major distributors in Sumter County, Lakeland, Tallahassee, Lee County, Clay County and East Central Florida (Withlacoochee River Co-op). Articles about this vital industry appears in the Economic Backbone section.

Fitness update: I’ve been running at least three times each week but never more than 3.0 miles and rarely faster than 10:00 minutes per mile. Perhaps it’s just inexorable aging.

— Andy Corty


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