Marion County

It’s hard to believe another CEP Annual Luncheon has come and gone. We put a tremendous amount of time and energy into this event to provide our partners with an incredibly experience that leaves them excited about our community, the CEP, and how their business is investing in “Doorways to Opportunity.” Thanks to everyone who attended this year and a special thanks to our sponsors: CareerSource CLM, Chase Bank, Duke Energy, On Top of the World Communities, and Zone Health & Fitness.

Once again, we sold out our 600 seats in just 10 days.  We added a second presentation to provide an additional opportunity for more partners to attend and participate. Encore presented by CenterState Bank was a cocktail reception and presentation held on the following evening at the Marion Theater. I am so glad we were able to add this second presentation and hope that we can grow this event in the future. Continue reading

As part of the CEP’s mission to be the catalyst for a prosperous community, the organization partners closely with local governments (as well as state and Federal) to ensure that we are creating and maintaining a business climate which encourages growth and prosperity. A recent example of this can be found in the issue of revisions to the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Over the last several months, the Marion County Board of County Commissioners held workshops and public hearings on potential revisions to the Comp Plan. Among the groups who were active in participating in this process were supporters of our area’s equine industry as well as builders, developers, environmentalists, and others. Two of the clear desires of both the participants and the Commission was to strengthen our Farmland Preservation Area (FPA) and to incorporate language into the plan regarding the development of future transportation corridors especially in the FPA.

The FPA encompasses an area in northwest Marion County which is home to many of our iconic horse farms. While the FPA has existed for a number of years, it really did not have the structure to do as its name suggests—preserve farms. The CEP has been a proponent for quite a while of strengthening the FPA. Supporting the basics of the finalized language was an easy step. Continue reading

MARION COUNTY, Florida (December 10, 2018) – Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Major Crimes detectives have positively identified the remains of husband and wife, Robert Lee Cooper (DOB: 01/22/1981) and Ariel Vanessa Prim (DOB: 04/16/1989), whose remains were found inside their home after it had caught fire on July 28, 2018. Detectives are now asking for the public’s help in revealing any information that may bring some clarity to the suspicious circumstances surrounding their deaths.

On Saturday, July 28, Marion County Fire Rescue firefighters responded to 4030 SE 84th Lane

Road in Ocala in reference to a structure fire. When they arrived on scene, firefighters discovered the burnt remains of a mobile home. While searching the remnants of the residence, they discovered human remains inside the house and immediately requested the assistance of the MCSO. In the months following the incident, MCSO Major Crimes detectives conducted a thorough investigation into the deaths and finally received the DNA results confirming the remains to be Cooper’s and Prim’s on Wednesday, December 5, 2018. Continue reading

During this holiday season, I am often asked at parties “Where do you work?” While many people are aware of the CEP, I find a number of people are confused by our initials and who we are. It is easy to assume everyone knows who we are and what we do, but that is not always the case. The CEP is an acronym for the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (now you know why we use CEP!). We are the community’s chamber of commerce as well as its official economic development organization. The CEP was formed just over six years ago with the merger of the former Chamber and Economic Development Council. While this version is only six years old, our roots go back 130 years to the founding of the Ocala Board of Trade in 1887.

The driving factor behind the merger of the two organizations was to create a unified, single voice for the business community. One entity that could assist businesses locating to our community, growing in our community, starting in our community, and thriving in our community. In fact, the basic structure of the CEP is with teams dedicated to Business Attraction, Business Retention, Business Creation, Business Advocacy, and Business Services. It was this approach in part which lead to the CEP being named Florida’s Chamber of the Year 2018 and a finalist last year for National Chamber of the Year. Continue reading

Three of the key areas on which the CEP focuses to drive our mission is Business Attraction, Business Retention, and Business Creation. Each of these areas is equally important as we seek to be the catalyst for a more prosperous community by serving as the voice of the business community and working to create and retain jobs and provide a return on investment for our partners. Not only are they equally important, but each has had recent successes.

Business Attraction

The CEP was able to officially announce recently that Nice Snacks had purchased a facility in the Ocala International Commerce Park and would be establishing their headquarters and manufacturing operations here. Nice is a private company which bakes healthy snacks. Food manufacturing is one of our five target sectors and they will be a great addition to our community. The company will be adding 25 employees and looks forward to being an active corporate citizen. Continue reading

One of the goals and primary focuses of the CEP from its inception has been to raise the wage level in our community. From our initial 5-year strategic plan (Moving Forward), one of the three BIG goals has been to not only attract new jobs but jobs which pay an average wage which is 15% higher than the county average. We evaluate every project we are working against this measure and we ask local government to only incent those businesses and jobs which will meet this standard.

The Census Bureau and various other economic entities provide a variety of ways for us to track this growth. The primary metric we use is the Average Weekly Wage as reported in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Today, the average wage which is required for us to incent a project is over $42,000/year. This is a 27% increase over the initial target wage. Our AVW has grown nearly 9% in the last two years which is nearly triple the state average. Continue reading


MARION COUNTY, Florida (August 24, 2018) – The Marion County Sheriff’s Office

(MCSO) has just introduced a new program designed to assist hearing-impaired drivers interact with our deputies. Statistics show that nearly 3 million Floridians have some form of hearing loss. Realizing the potential for miscommunication during a traffic stop between the deputy and the driver, MCSO has designed a communication card to assist with this.

The program works as follows: MCSO provides the hearing-impaired driver with a special sticker to place on the rear of their vehicle which alerts the deputy to the fact that the driver is hearing-impaired. A visor card is also provided for the driver to keep in the car with them to present to the deputy during a traffic stop. This visor card uses pictures and phrases that both the deputy and the driver may point to in order to better communicate with each other. This will help ensure that the driver knows the reason for the traffic stop and will ensure that the deputy knows how best to help the driver. Continue reading

Over the next several weeks, you are going to be frequently seeing and hearing Vote Yes! from the CEP. Our Board has formally endorsed the renewal of the 1 Mil School Referendum. This renewal is incredibly significant to the continued growth of our community. It is important to me that our community understands why you should Vote Yes!

The revenue collected from the 1 Mil are dedicated to several key areas: classroom size reduction, art, music, PE, library, and Career/Technical Education. Additionally, the renewal will allow the School System to fund vital safety measures such as school resource officers. All expenditures are carefully reviewed by an independent Oversight Committee. All of these are important initiatives but I want to highlight Career/Technical Education and Safety. Continue reading

There are so many incredible things happening in our community. Significant new facilities are under construction for the McLane Company and Cardinal LG.  The Power Plant Business Incubator continues to help innovative and scalable startups primarily in the areas of technology, health care, and communications. The downtown continues to generate enthusiasm with the new Hilton Garden Inn under construction, an ever growing line up of restaurants and stores, and more residential options in the works. All of this excitement and growth is in large part the result of our partners. Thank you for your engagement and investment in moving Ocala and Marion County forward.

Leadership Ocala Marion 

Spring brings warmer weather, high school proms and graduations, and the beginning of planning for the CEP’s amazing leadership programs. For more than 30 years, Leadership Ocala Marion (LOM) has been training and providing opportunities to train new generations of leaders on the needs of this community and how they can engage. Continue reading

The following column was originally published in the Florida Chamber of Commerce magazine to focus on the important role local chambers play in economic development.

Jobs. Investment. Wages. Taxes. Entrepreneurship. Incentives. Construction. All of these terms have been used to define economic development. Depending on where one lives, all could be right, some could be right, or none could be correct. Defining economic development is different for every one of Florida’s 67 counties. While defining economic development is hard, knowing who is responsible is pretty easy.

At its heart, economic development is the ultimate local issue. What is an appropriate and goal-worthy definition of economic development for Ocala (my home) will be very different than the definition in Miami which will be equally different from Pensacola’s definition. Even more important than the definition is the implementation. Whatever your definition, how are you going to practice economic development? Again, this is really a local issue but one in which the state and federal governments play a tremendous part. Continue reading

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