Marion County

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I want to highlight several areas describing the economic growth our community has experienced throughout the last year.


An item which can no longer be denied is the growth of Ocala as a regional healthcare hub. Continued investments and expansions by AdventHealth Ocala, HCA Ocala, and HCA West Marion have added beds, new service lines, and increased access to care throughout the community, all while continuing to provide amazing care through the pandemic. We recently cut the ribbon on a new 26,000 sq. ft. cath lab at HCA Ocala wrapping up their revamped tower while at HCA West Marion a third tower was started with the ribbon cutting on an inpatient rehab and more beds. AdventHealth continues to expand services especially with its refurbished and expanded NICU and its new, free-standing ER in Belleview. Finally, UF Health began work this past year on a new Ocala Neighborhood hospital at US 27 and I-75. Continue reading

It is especially fitting that as I write this column on Valentine’s Day that I am writing about my Valentine. My wife, Lisa, has absolutely been an integral part of my work life. In fact, I don’t know how I could it without her. That is not prose or sentimentality, it is truth.

Lisa and I will have been married for 28 years in March. I have worked in the Chamber/Economic Development industry for six months longer. This career has taken us to three states and five different communities. Throughout them all, she has become the biggest fan of our newest hometowns. You cannot do this work without loving where you are and she has become a fan of each though some more than others (ask her some time about the 20 months we lived in her “favorite”). Continue reading

As we enter this new year, the Ocala Metro has made a few national lists which are worth highlighting:


Every year, U-Haul unveils their Top 25 Cities for Growth. This list ranks cities based on one-way moves using U-Haul. While not entirely scientific, it is a great barometer of where people are moving. The Ocala Metro has made this list each of the last several years but this year ranks #1 as the top city where people are moving. This is important because of who moves using U-Haul – overwhelmingly it is younger people. We know that 30-39 year olds in the Ocala Metro are growing at double the national average. This is a key demographic for workforce, home ownership, and families.

Wood & Poole

Wood & Poole is a Washington, DC, based economics firm. They recently created their Top 40 Cities for Growth through 2060. They wanted to determine what 40 cities were going to experience the most growth over the next 40 years. They ranked Ocala #30 on their list with the expectation that the population would grow to 610,000. While 40 years projections are not particularly reliable, it is a good sense of where others see the Ocala Metro growing. Continue reading

Duke Energy Florida announced it has identified four locations in Franklin, Highlands and Marion counties for inclusion in its 2022 Site Readiness Program to evaluate and prepare industrial site opportunities for economic development investments.

“Duke Energy Florida is committed to powering the lives of our customers and the vitality of our communities,” said Melissa Seixas, Duke Energy Florida state president. “Through the Site Readiness Program, we continue to work closely with various government and private sector organizations to bring new jobs and capital investment to the state of Florida. We are proud of this program’s initial success and we will continue to offer economic development initiatives that bring value to the communities we serve.”

Through the Site Readiness Program, Duke Energy identifies high-potential sites and partners with county officials, local economic development professionals and landowners to develop a strategy for getting sites fully ready to market to industrial prospects. In Florida alone, the Site Readiness Program has resulted in 680 new jobs and $183 million in capital investment in Florida since 2013.  Continue reading

Visiting Marion Cultural Alliance, pictured left is Jaye Baillie Executive Director and Nick Navetta Financial advisor from Edward Jones. Nick is on the Board of Directors of the Marion Cultural Alliance. The Marion Cultural Center A great place to visit and experience the arts.

Last month marked the CEP’s tenth anniversary. It is a milestone worth celebrating and we will be celebrating this anniversary throughout the next year. The celebration will be about the CEP’s impact on businesses and impact on our community. The CEP is nothing without the involvement and engagement of our 1,200 business partners. It is that engagement when businesses are positively impacted that the magic happens. It is nearly impossible for businesses to be positively impacted and it not positively impact our community. We have seen that play out time again over the last decade and hearing those stories over the next year will be incredibly inspiring.

But how did all of this happen? What sparked this effort? The catalyst for the CEP is no different than the catalyst for any other – it is leadership. In particular, leaders within the business community stepped up and decided they wanted more for their community. Leaders stepped up and committed to an out-of-the-box approach. Leaders stepped up and committed their time, talent, and treasure to bringing this vision to reality. In other words, leaders lead. Continue reading

Logistics. It is a word that has become a common part of the Ocala vernacular in the last few years but what does it mean? Why are logistics important to the local economy and how does it impact the community?

It is common to equate logistics and distribution but they are not equivalent. Logistics involves distribution but it is more than that. Logistics is the coordination and supply of raw materials, the management of production materials and finished goods, and the distribution of these goods to end users. Logistics is distribution but also manufacturing, marketing, warehousing, service, finance, and technology.

Ocala has become and is becoming more of a Logistics Hub for all of the reasons listed. Yes, the Ocala market has seen an explosion of distribution and fulfillment centers in the last few years. One needs to only drive around the community to see this impact with the new massive Amazon, AutoZone, Chewy, McLane, and Dollar Tree facilities. But one can also see the manufacturing role in logistics and the growth of companies and facilities like Signature Brands, Custom Window a Pella Company, and Cardinal LG. The FedEx Ground Hub, R&L Trucking facility, ABCO, and Swift Transportation are examples of the important delivery component in this sector. Continue reading

The CEP has been working over the last year to partner with businesses and governments in Lake County to create the Lake Economic Area Development (LEAD) Partnership. This public/private organization has been created and designed to lead efforts in further growing, diversifying, and uniting the Lake County regional economy.  The organization will work closely with government, private businesses, chambers of commerce, educational and workforce organizations, and other related stakeholders to collectively drive economic growth in Lake County.

Lake County has experienced significant population growth over the last two decades. However, while the population has grown, the community has not seen a corresponding increase in the number of primary employers. For more than two years, business leaders from throughout Lake County have been meeting and discussing how to play more of a leadership role in the economic agenda for the community. This concept of leadership—leading on the diversification of the local economy, leading on better-paying jobs, leading to grow the tax base, leading to build a self-sustaining economic future—is the premise on which LEAD is built. Continue reading

The Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership, along with CareerSource and Duke Energy, partnered together to thoroughly examine the underlying reasons for a persistently low labor force participation rate (LFPR) in Marion County. The three components used to conduct the LFPR analysis consisted of an assessment of local, regional and national data related to workforce, demographics and employment trends; interviews with local employers to examine the actual recruiting and hiring experience; and a large-scale survey of the working-age population.

The CEP and our partners know that by understanding why individuals are not in the workforce, we can better prepare our workforce and increase the overall economic vitality throughout the Ocala Metro.  Continue reading

What does it mean to live in a great community? I think all of us could answer this question with some similarities but also with some differences. For many, access to good schools and institutions of higher learning would be paramount. For others, a broad and diverse economy that provides opportunities for job growth and competitive wages. No doubt for some recreational activities and entertainment would be the hallmark of a great community. Housing choices, restaurants, the arts, etc. would all be components of most lists of what makes a great community. One item that would surely make every list is innovative, comprehensive healthcare. While I would argue (who would be surprised) that Ocala meets the mark on all of these aforementioned items, it is perhaps on this last one on which it is excels.

We have an incredible healthcare community in the Ocala Metro. The continual investment by HCA Florida and AdventHealth in their hospitals here is truly amazing. HCA Florida has been investing something like $200,000 a day, every day for more than five years in growing and expanding their facilities and services at HCA Ocala and HCA West Marion. Continue reading

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