Convergence of roads, rails and runways gives North Central region its economic clout.
Ocala/ Marion County
Airport Draws Business
Ocala International Airport is the focal site for recent business activity in Marion County. Avionics manufacturer SunAir Electronics LLC is bringing its headquarters to Ocala.
Global connections and workforce clout
“Since about 70% of our business is done internationally, the Free Trade Zone at the Ocala International Airport weighed heavily in our decision to locate here,” says Mark Allen, president/CEO of SunAir Electronics LLC. The firm, which designs, manufactures and distributes state-of-the-art, high-frequency communications systems used for long-range voice and data transmission, needed a new headquarters location in order to reduce business costs and provide a lower cost of living with improved quality of life for its workforce. SunAir executives narrowed their choice to three communities. And since the company had just landed a nearly $2-million contract with the country of Argentina to provide updated communications stations for its air traffic control system, a skilled labor pool was a particularly important consideration. “Marion County rose to the top because of the exhaustive list of technical manufacturers already in the area,” says Allen. “We knew if those companies could maintain a workforce here, there was a strong possibility we could as well.”
The support rendered by the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corporation and the city of Ocala were important factors, too. “We were able to negotiate a very favorable long-term lease with the city of Ocala for the 25,000-square-foot building we needed,” says Allen.
“The EDC brought in their partners with [CLM Workforce Connection] and they’ve done a great job,” he adds. “They placed the ads and handled the initial screenings from a pool of applicants. As a result, we’ve had more qualified candidates than our HR team can sort through, and so far, we’ve had a favorable success rate with our new hires.”
Workforce Education - Plugging Into Power
Faced with the prospect of job vacancies brought on by an aging baby boomer workforce, industry leaders in North Central Florida are partnering with education to “grow their own” employees with a high school curriculum designed specifically to meet employer needs.
The Marion Technical Institute (MTI) opened in Ocala in 2003 with five technical academies, a strong high school academic curriculum and the goal of offering training in the skills that area businesses say they need most. The effort has paid off. Business leaders have been so pleased with the caliber of students coming out of MTI that more industries are jumping on board. As of fall 2006, there were six technical academies: Automotive Technology, Building Construction, Business and Finance, Culinary Arts, Industrial Engineering Technology and Information Technology. In fall 2007, the Power Industry (PI) Academy joins the list.
Progress Energy, Sumter Electric Cooperative (SECO) and Ocala Electric Utility are teaming up to assist with curriculum development, provide adjunct instructors and offer job shadowing and internship opportunities.
Future plans call for the establishment of PI academies in Citrus and Levy counties, too.
• University of Florida
• Central Florida Community College
• North Florida Community College
• Lake City Community College
• Santa Fe Community College
• Gainesville Regional Airport
• Ocala International Airport