August 12, 2020

Business Florida 2020 - The Regions

On the Rise

Alachua • Bradford • Columbia • Dixie • Gilchrist • Hamilton Lafayette • Levy • Madison • Marion • Suwannee • Taylor • Union

| 10/16/2019

Renewable Energy

With plenty of sunshine and wide-open spaces, six North Central Florida counties have been singled out for solar energy development by two power companies serving the region.

Duke Energy Florida opened its first North Central universal solar plant — the Perry Solar Facility in Taylor County — in October 2016, followed by the Suwannee Solar Facility in Suwannee County near Live Oak a year later and the Hamilton Solar Power Plant in adjacent Hamilton County near Jasper in December 2019.

Now, in keeping with its goal of establishing 14 universal solar power plants and adding 700+ megawatts of solar power across the state by 2023, Duke will add two more facilities in North Central. The Trenton Solar Plant on 580 acres in Gilchrist County is expected to begin operation in December 2019, with the Columbia Solar Power Plant in Columbia County near Fort White to follow in March 2020. Each will generate 74.9 megawatts of power.

Also looking to capture power from North Central’s sun is Florida Power & Light (FPL). Of the 18 FPL solar plants currently operating across Florida, two are in North Central: Horizon Solar Energy Center, which opened in 2018 to serve Alachua and Putnam counties, and Sunshine Gateway Solar Energy Center, located in Columbia County near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 75 in January 2019.

And currently under construction by FPL is Echo River Solar Energy Center in North Central’s Suwannee County. Estimated completion date: early 2020.

KEY PLAYERS: Duke Energy Florida, St. Petersburg; Florida Power & Light, Juno Beach


Health Care

North Central is served by multiple hospitals and many are expanding:

• In Marion County, Ocala Health continues a $56-million expansion at Ocala Regional Medical Center in 2019 with the opening of 34 beds dedicated to neuro services and 34 more beds in a new, dedicated cardiac unit, bringing the facility’s total bed count to 290.

• At Ocala Health’s West Marion Community Hospital, a second cath lab and a 10-bed pre-post cath lab recovery unit are under construction; anticipated completion: fall 2020.

• AdventHealth Ocala (formerly Florida Hospital Ocala) has completed phase one of its $27-million emergency department expansion adding three trauma rooms and 20 private patient rooms.

• A $90-million expansion is underway at North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville to add three additional floors and 78 private patient rooms.

• At UF Health Shands Hospital, areas left vacant when two stand-alone specialty hospitals — UF Heart & Vascular and UF Neuromedicine — were opened two years ago are being re-purposed to accommodate intensive, intermediate and long-term acute care, obstetrics and burn care.

• Renovations planned for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital include the addition of a pediatric preoperative area and a postoperative recovery unit designed exclusively for children.

U.S. New & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals 2019-20” ranks UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital among the top 25 nationwide in four pediatric specialties: cardiology and heart surgery; diabetes and endocrinology; pulmonology and lung surgery; and cancer. Its adult counterpart — UF Health Shands Hospital — was named among the top 40 “Best Hospitals 2019-20” in five specialties: nephrology, urology, geriatrics, diabetes and endocrinology and gastroenterology/GI surgery.



The jewel in North Central’s academic crown is, of course, the University of Florida, one of three designated “Preeminent State Research Universities” by the Florida Board of Governors and a catalyst for research and economic development. In FY2019, UF received $776.2 million in research funding, 68% of which came from the federal government.

Also serving the region’s educational needs are four state colleges:

• Central College of Florida offering associate and bachelor’s degrees and certificate programs at its main campus in Ocala and its Levy County campus in Chiefland. CF’s Ocala campus is also home to The Appleton Museum of Art.

• Florida Gateway College offering associate and bachelor’s degrees, along with a determination to address employer workforce needs. In response to a call from neighboring HAECO Airframe Services, Florida Gateway will offer the region’s first program to train students as aviation power plant mechanics and airframe maintenance workers. Located at Lake City Gateway Airport, just around the corner from the college, HAECO inspects, maintains and services commercial jets.

• North Florida College with campuses in Madison and Live Oak, offering a B.S. in nursing as well as numerous associate degrees and certificate programs.

• Santa Fe College in Gainesville, winner of the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and home to a teaching zoo, maintained and operated by the more than 200 students enrolled in the college’s premier Zoo Animal Technology Program.

Tags: North Central, Business Florida

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