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Town Meets Gown

North Central

Gainesville snagged the highest ranking in Florida, No. 15 on Livability.com’s 2017 list of “Top 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs.” Reasons cited: available talent, affordable housing and overall quality of life.

University of Florida is ranked 8th among public U.S. universities and 18th worldwide for U.S. utility patents granted in 2016; 91 in all. (National Academy of Inventors, Intellectual Property Owners Association)

Ocala is among 10 U.S. metro areas expected to add the most jobs through 2018. Anticipated annual rate of growth: 3% compared to the national average of 1.4%. (Moody Analytics)

North Central Florida
  • Population / 904,527
  • Labor Force / 381,703
  • Households / 384,975
  • Total Earnings / $16.82 bil.
  • Median Per Capita Income / $30,336
  • Total Retail Sales / $11.46 bil.
  • Universities/Colleges / 5
  • Commercial Airport / 1

The University of Florida’s long-term master plan goes beyond campus boundaries to address community concerns, preserve neighborhoods and encourage grads to remain in Gainesville.


Logistics / Transportation

SUWANNEE COUNTY Officials are petitioning Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission to make Live Oak a stop if/when passenger rail service is restored between New Orleans and Jacksonville. A stop at Live Oak, near the junction of I-75 and I-10, could generate more than $12 million annually for Amtrak.

OCALA A $50-million AutoZone distribution center is scheduled to open in 2018 and create 240 jobs. It will be the retailer’s 10th such facility nationwide and will supply the more than 290 AutoZone stores in Florida and Puerto Rico.

OCALA Online pet food/products retailer Chewy.com announced plans in early 2017 to create 600 jobs at an e-commerce fulfillment center in Marion County. Anticipated opening: February 2018.

JASPER Atlanta-based Swift Straw, a distributor of pine straw, mulch and other ground cover products for landscaping purposes, has opened its first Florida location in Hamilton County. Founded in 2011, Swift Straw chose Jasper for its proximity to I-75 and I-10. The firm has hired 26 workers and plans to hire additional staff as its operations get fully underway.

Key Players

Cheney Brothers | Ocala
FedEx Ground | Ocala
R+L Global Logistics | Ocala

Since its 2016 expansion at Lake City Gateway Airport in Columbia County, HAECO Airframe Services has filled close to 350 jobs. The aircraft maintenance firm has a workforce of 930 and hopes to add another 170 soon.

North Central


Health Care

GAINESVILLE U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals 2017-18” ranks UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in the top 35 in cardiology and heart surgery; diabetes and endocrinology; and pulmonology. Its adult counterpart — UF Health Shands Hospital — was named among “Best Hospitals 2017-18” in nephrology (No. 25), diabetes and endocrinology (No. 31), pulmonology (No. 34) and gynecology (No. 35).

OCALA Ocala Health plans to grow its Ocala Regional Medical Center by 34 inpatient beds, 12 emergency room beds and two large operating rooms. The $56-million project will add 35,000 square feet and renovate 50,000 square feet of existing space. In December 2016, Ocala Health broke ground on an expansion at its West Marion Community Hospital to add 36 medical/surgical and eight ICU patient beds, nine emergency exam rooms and two operating rooms.

OCALA In June 2017, Munroe Regional Medical Center opened its 12-bed Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the first such facility in Marion County. The medical center delivers around 2,500 babies each year.

Key Players

Munroe Regional Medical Center | Ocala
Ocala Health System | Ocala
UF Health | Gainesville

Opening in December 2017, UF Health’s new Heart & Vascular Hospital will feature eight operating rooms, three of which will be hybrid ORs offering flexible diagnostic and surgical set-ups to address the most complex cardiac and vascular conditions.



ALACHUA Nanotherapeutics has received a 10-year $159-million contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to develop and evaluate biopharmaceutical products for the diagnosis and treatment of infectious disease.

GAINESVILLE Mérieux NutriSciences has relocated its food testing facility closer to the University of Florida campus where it will continue to provide food safety and quality research services for foodservice manufacturers, providers and restaurant chains throughout the Southeast. Thirty jobs will be added over the next two years.

GAINESVILLE The University of Florida received a record $724 million in research grants in FY2015-16, a 24% increase since 2005-06. More than half of this year’s funding came from federal agencies, led by the National Institutes of Health at $179 million.

ALACHUA University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute has been singled out from among 7,500 institutions as 2017 “Biotech Incubator of the Year” by the International Business Innovation Association. Since 1990, SMBI has supported more than 100 startups in biotechnology, biomedicine and bioagriculture and has helped create more than 2,200 jobs.

Key Players

AGTC | Alachua
Nanotherapeutics | Alachua



ALACHUA COUNTY Construction is under way at Florida Power & Light’s Horizon Solar Energy Center on 1,315 acres straddling Alachua and Putnam counties. Completion: January 1, 2018.

Key Players

Duke Energy Florida | St. Petersburg
Florida Power & Light | Juno Beach

After opening its Perry Solar Facility in Taylor County in 2016, Duke Energy Florida began constructing another solar power plant on 70 acres in Suwannee County near Live Oak. The 8.8-megawatt Suwannee Solar Facility, scheduled for completion by 2018, is the third in Duke’s long-range plan to install 500 megawatts of solar power in Florida by 2024.


Business/Financial Services

OCALA Sarasota-based Progressive Employer Management Company (Pemco) has opened an office here to provide payroll, human resources and employee benefits services. Founded in 1999, Pemco services the professional, medical, hospitality, industrial and nonprofit sectors, among others. The Ocala office is the firm’s ninth location; a tenth is set to open in Miami in late 2017.

GAINESVILLE One of the nation’s largest insurance and financial services companies, Nationwide will add 360 employees over three years and invest $7.4 million in construction and renovations at its Gainesville campus.

Key Players

Nationwide Insurance | Gainesville
Sitel | Lake City


North Central


Fun for all
Spanning 13 counties, North Central offers activities for every age and interest. Fish the scenic Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers or snorkel for scallops along the Gulf of Mexico shore. Hike Ocala National Forest, browse Cedar Key’s quaint shops or see Florida wildlife aboard a glass bottom boat at Ocala’s iconic Silver Springs. In Gainesville, browse the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art (general admission is free); visit the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, the only zookeeper training facility with its own accredited zoo; or join the crowds at “Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park” in Live Oak for camping, recreational activities and outdoor music festivals — 600,000 visit this venue annually.

Whitewater rafting at Big Shoals State Park in White Springs

Downtown remake
The 1902 Blanche Hotel in downtown Lake City is undergoing a facelift. The $14-million project aims to convert the building that once welcomed the likes of Al Capone and Johnny Cash into housing units, retail space and a 38,000-sq.-ft. city hall.

Blanche Hotel renovation rendering

Meet a REAL superpower
The University of Florida is home to HiPerGator 2.0, the second most powerful public university supercomputer in the U.S. Although capable of holding 21 million times more data than the computer program on Apollo 11 that put a man on the moon, 2.0’s real value isn’t the power of its memory, but what researchers can do with that power — tackle climate change, eradicate poverty or deal with other global issues in ways that were once unimaginable.