September 29, 2023

Business Florida 2011 - The Regions

North Central - Collaborating for Progress

Public and private sectors combine forces to spur economic growth in North Central Florida.

Ginger Broslat | 9/21/2010

Home to the urban centers of Ocala and Gainesville as well as the University of Florida, the North Central region teems with innovative ideas and entrepreneurial activity. This area, which is known for its competitive cost of living, abundance of natural resources and advanced transportation network draws businesses of many types and sizes to take advantage of easy access to global markets and a highly skilled workforce.

Today, with its growing emphasis on collaboration between the public and private sectors, North Central offers unprecedented economic opportunity. Collaborations include a newly designated Enterprise Zone in Ocala; the coming together of 22 entities to provide region-wide broadband capabilities; and the launching of a "super incubator" linking university research and private business development in Gainesville.

Signature Brand's CEO Jim Schneider
Signature Brands CEO Jim Schneider found the right site and plenty of local support to expand his growing company in North Central Florida. [Photo: Signature Brands]

"In the zone" for progress

As president and CEO of Signature Brands, Jim Schneider is quite familiar with Marion County's business assets. The company that started nearly 60 years ago in an Ocala kitchen has since grown to become a manufacturer and distributor of products commonly found on household shelves all across America. Betty Crocker, Cake Mate, PAAS and Pumpkin Masters are among the well-known labels from Signature Brands that command 85% of its industry's market share. Schneider credits the Ocala-Marion community for much of the company's success.

"We have some very long-term, seasoned professionals running the Ocala operation with a team of loyal and dedicated associates," he says. "Some have been with us for decades."

In 2008, when Signature's parent company — Switzerland-based food manufacturer Hero — approved the acquisition of yet another brand, Schneider sought help from the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Council to find a site for expansion and tapped into a new level of collaboration between state and local governments. The state of Florida had designated its newest Enterprise Zone in the city of Ocala, providing a wealth of advantages for siting Signature's new facility in familiar territory.

North Central Florida
Demographics for the North Central Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.

Regional Assets

• College of Central Florida
• Florida Gateway College
• North Florida Community College
• Santa Fe College
• University of Florida

• Gainesville Regional Airport
• Ocala International Airport

"Without reservation, the support we have received from the EDC, the city, county and the state of Florida made the difference in choosing Ocala as the site for our popcorn plant," says Schneider. "The financial investments from the community were important, but the fast-tracking and permitting assistance really made a major impact on our decision."

Signature Brands is not the only company to enjoy the advantages of locating in Ocala's newly designated Enterprise Zone. Pennsylvania-based Santelli Tempered Glass preceded Signature as the first business to locate "in the zone," bringing a capital investment of $3.5 million to the area. Owner Joseph Santelli credits state and local investments as a key motivator in his decision.

"The programs put together by the city, county and state made it obvious that Ocala is where we needed to be. We have been treated well and feel very welcomed in our new community," he says. "This location will help us better serve our customers in the Southeast so we can enjoy continued growth."

Tags: North Central, Business Florida

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