Business Florida 2019 - The Regions
North Central Florida — where innovative companies are born and workforce talent thrives — is home to the University of Florida, the nation’s 8th ranked public university, 12th most prolific patent earner worldwide, recipient of a record $837.6 million in research funding in FY 2018 and a catalyst for economic development. Many who were drawn here first for study have become permanent residents and business owners, helping to fuel the region’s growing technology and advanced manufacturing industry sectors. Another plus: I-10 and I-75 intersect in this region, and companies in need of seamless logistics are taking notice and moving in.
Given that the University of Florida (UF) is one of the nation’s leading research institutions and home to the third most powerful university supercomputer in the U.S., it’s no surprise to find that technology companies of all sizes thrive here.
In 2018, UF consolidated its commercialization efforts under one name. The new organization — UF Innovate — includes: Tech Licensing, which commercializes discoveries; Ventures, which helps create startup companies; and two incubators — The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. Located in downtown Gainesville, The Hub recently doubled in size adding office and laboratory space. Sid Martin Biotech in nearby Alachua has twice been named Global Science and Technology Incubator of the Year by Business Innovation Center and has launched more than 100 biotech, biomedicine and bioagriculture startups since its founding in 1995.
Privately-owned technology companies are finding success here too. Among them is Optym, a global leader in providing optimization solutions for the transportation and logistics industries. Optym was founded in Gainesville in 2000 and has since grown to include offices in Armenia, Australia, Chile and India. Originally housed at the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneur Center, Optym moved into its freestanding headquarters in 2015 and added another 10,000 square feet to that headquarters in 2017 with plans to hire 100 employees through 2018.
Software developer Info Tech is another North Central technology success story. Founded in Gainesville in 1977, Info Tech develops software used by transportation agencies and highway contractors to manage road construction projects and maintain integrity within the competitive bidding process. Info Tech today employs 250 and in May 2017 moved into its stand-alone headquarters complete with a solar electric power system and 2,400-sq.-ft. green roof.
Companies looking to increase their logistics and distribution efficiency will find North Central a "natural" location. I-75 bisects this region on its way north from Miami to Atlanta, and Greater Gainesville is the halfway point. Just half an hour north at Lake City is I-10, providing ready access east to Jacksonville and west to Pensacola. And in close proximity are two deepwater ports: JAXPORT (85 miles east) and Port Tampa Bay (130 miles south).
In recent years Marion County has become a hub for heavyweight companies in the logistics and distribution sector. FedEx Ground was the first to put down roots at Ocala/Marion Commerce Park just off I-75 with the opening of a 450,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in 2016. Within a year, two more followed. At the same site in 2017, AutoZone opened a distribution center to serve its retail stores throughout Florida and Puerto Rico, and online pet products retailer Chewy built a 600,000-sq.-ft. distribution center, its first in Florida and sixth nationwide. To date, the three facilities account for nearly 1,000 new jobs, with the promise of more to come.