In April of 2020, through the vision of the CEP Executive Board who identified a need for healthcare to be a focus of development, Erin A. Jones, joined our team with her 16+ years in healthcare, as the Director of Healthcare Development. Creating Sphere, a healthcare initiative of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership.
The CEP wants to champion existing healthcare and stimulate a culture of growth. Sphere’s Mission is to be a catalyst for innovation bringing more companies which brings more investment. The goal is to lead, align, expand, and attract in key areas of healthcare such as logistics, manufacturing, delivery, and services. “In the few other areas that have a healthcare lane in chambers across the county, the CEP is the only one that is looking at healthcare with economic development in mind” says CEO Kevin Sheilley. Continue reading
This column was prepared by the CEP and recently ran in Expansion Solutions magazine. It describes why companies are considering relocating to the Ocala Metro.
If the Ocala Metro is not on your company’s search radar, it needs to be! Located at the crossroads of the Florida peninsula, the Ocala Metro is crossed by I-75 and is met by US Hwy 301 and just north of the Florida Turnpike. These intersections create the connectivity to service Florida’s 22 million and growing population as well as providing ease of access to the lower Southeast United States.
Is logistics important to your business? The all important one-days truck drive (6-hours each way) reaches 34 million people when centered on Ocala. This is a 39% premium over the I-4 corridor and connects Atlanta to Miami. This is key logistical fact is a primary reason companies like Amazon, AutoZone, Chewy, FedEx Ground, McLane, and Dollar Tree have opened new distribution facilities in the area in just the last few years.
Ocala prides itself on delivering facilities and permits almost as quickly as we can speed your logistics. Expediting permitting is not only a goal but a standard operating procedure with local governments committed to partnering to ensure your spending time and capital on actually constructing facilities and not battling city hall. Shovel ready sites in the Metro are truly that – shovel ready. With nearly 2000 acres of fully infrastructured, ready to develop industrial sites, your business can find the site it needs today. Continue reading
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity recently released the December unemployment information for Florida communities. As a number of media outlets have reported, the Ocala Metro (Marion County) reported a December unemployment rate of 5.6%. This was down from the adjusted November rate of 5.7% and is below both the Florida (6.1%) and US (6.7%) averages. The Ocala Metro has reported an unemployment rate that is lower than the state and national rates for every month since the beginning of the pandemic.
While this is good news it only tells a portion of what is a much larger and better story. A community or state can report a lower unemployment rate without creating jobs. If the workforce and/or the number employed decreases from the previous period, then the unemployment rate may decrease especially if individuals have stopped looking for jobs. These discouraged workers stop showing up in the numbers and can give the illusion of shrinking unemployment when that is not actually occurring.
Job growth occurs when the area reports an increase in both the size of the workforce and in the number of those employed. In December, the Ocala Metro was one of three Florida metros (out of 24) to report positive year over year gains in both of these key categories. Additionally, the Ocala Metro reported more than triple the number of jobs created (1,900) than the other two positive metros combined. The Ocala Metro has led the state in these two critical areas for the last four months and is the only metro area to report positive growth in each of the last four months. One only has to drive briefly around town to see all of the Now Hiring signs and the consistently increasing wages to know that these numbers ring true. Continue reading
The purpose of the CEP is to be the One-Stop Shop and Voice of the Business Community. We are the designated economic development organization for all of the Ocala Metro. While many focus on our Business Attraction successes (bringing in new major employers like Amazon, Dollar Tree, and FedEx) or our Business Services programs (such as Business After Hours, TuesdayTalks, and Leadership Ocala Marion), it is our Business Retention and Business Creation efforts that really have the ability to impact the business community. This is especially true as we continue to go through a difficult crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Our Business Retention efforts are focused on assisting existing businesses throughout the community with a particular focus on primary employers (manufacturing, distribution, and large office). We work with approximately 200 businesses every year REGARDLESS of their partnership with the CEP. In other words, a business does not have to be a CEP partner to receive assistance. Much of this work is focused on removing barriers to their growth. Sometimes this means connecting them existing resources on the local, state, and federal level. Other times it means we are connecting them with other businesses to the benefit of both. Continue reading
The Ocala Chamber & Economic Partnership is pleased to welcome two new primary employers the local business community: ZT Polygel and Big Daddy Unlimited.
ZT Polygel LLC has signed a lease on a 55,000 sq. ft. facility in Ocala to allow the company to manufacture its industry leading algae-based organic polymers used in hand sanitizers and surface sprays which are the only polymers third party certified and FDA lab proven to sequester and kill COVID-19.
The Ocala facility located at 500 NW 27th Ave, will eventually employ 90 people and will begin limited operations before the end of the year. This is ZT Polymer’s second location in Florida and when fully operational will have the capacity to manufacture enough polymer to produce over 50 mm gallons per month of personal sanitizer products. ZT Polygel is used in its sister company’s line of sanitizer products under the VARIGARD™ name.
When ZT Polygel is used in any hand sanitizer formula, the patented polymers create a three-layer barrier of protection that lasts for more than two hours. Pathogens are sequestered in the middle layer, which does not allow the transfer of the germ to another individual or surface. ZT Polygel has been lab-proven at one of the country’s top COVID-19 testing labs.
To learn more about the unique attributes of ZT Polygel and its sister company VARIGARD™, visit them at www.varigard.com Continue reading
The CEP would like to thank the more than 132,000 Marion County voters who overwhelmingly approved the renewal of the Local Option Sales Tax. The renewal won more than 70% approval in a record voter turnout. Perhaps more impressively, the issue won every Marion County precinct – all 122!
The CEP through its political committee Citizens Encouraging Progress, Inc or CEPI lead the effort to encourage voters to renew. A broad base of businesses contributed more than $80,000 to assist this effort. This may cause one to wonder why the CEP and businesses would invest so much time and dollars into this issue. What are they getting out of it?
It is a fair question. First, the CEP receives no funding from the sales tax. All of the funds are dedicated to building and maintaining transportation infrastructure and to the capital needs (equipment, facilities, etc.) of our first responders. Businesses and the CEP recognize that if our community is to continue to grow (and the Ocala Metro is now adding nearly 150 new residents a week) then there must be continued investments in building and maintaining our roads and other transportation infrastructure and in supporting our first responders. Businesses and residents agree that when there is an emergency, you want to know that when you call 911 the appropriate assistance will arrive with the equipment they need to help.
Additionally, the sales tax is the more efficient and effective way to fund these important items. An ad valorem (property) tax is only paid by the 65% of residents who own property. However, a sales tax is paid not only by every resident but all of those who visit and commute into our community each day. Our economist tells us that is at least 30% of the revenue. Having 130% fund the roads we all use and the first responders on which we all depend is definitely more efficient than expecting 65% to fund the items.
Your support and renewal of this important investment in our community is not only appreciated, it is needed if we are to continue to grow and prosper. Great things are happening in the Ocala Metro and the future is very bright for our area. Thank you for your continued investment in our joint future.
The Ocala/ Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) has been named national Chamber of the Year by ACCE, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
ACCE is an Alexandria, Va.-based membership association that represents over 9,000 professionals who work for and with more than 1,300 chambers of commerce around the world.
Chamber of the Year, sponsored by MemberClicks, is the most prestigious and competitive award presented by ACCE and is the only globally recognized industry award that honors top chambers of commerce. Those honored with the Chamber of the Year designation have demonstrated organizational strength and made an impact on key community priorities, such as education, transportation, business development and quality of life.
We accepted the award on September 30 during ACCE’s Future of Chambers Summit, a virtual conference which replaced our annual convention. Continue reading
Last month, voters throughout our community went to the polls and decided several local elections and, in some cases, selected candidates for the November ballot. While these local raises are very important, I would like to mention an item about which you will start hearing more soon.
Safety. It is probably something we all take for granted until we need it. It is important to our families and to our businesses. We all want to know that in time of emergency, we can depend on our first responders such as the fire and rescue to come to our aid. We also want to know that our roads will be safe to travel.
In March 2016, Marion County voters approved a one-percent sales tax for public safety and transportation infrastructure. There are no salaries nor recurring costs paid by the sales tax revenues. Since January 2017, the tax has brought in approximately $180M in estimated revenue that has funded dozens of projects including:
- Building of Northwest 49th Avenue to improve traffic-carrying capacity and enhance the opportunity for economic development in the area.
- Rehabilitation of over 53 miles of roadways including: County Road 464B, County Road 326, County Road 316, County Road 42, and County Road 320
- Marion County Fire Rescue equipment including: 12 new ambulances, 5 new engines, 1 ladder truck, 300 self-contained breathing apparatus, and new fire station at Rolling Greens
- City of Ocala has completed 12 road improvement projects valued at over $1.9M
- City of Ocala also added 2 new fire stations and a police district office
Additionally, the City of Ocala and Marion County have seen their ISO ratings improve: Ocala to a 2 and Marion County to a 3. These improvements are in large part thanks to the sales tax and provide relief to property owners through lower insurance costs in addition to knowing that our homes and families are safer.
Our economist reveals that at least 30% of the taxes are derived from individuals who do not live in our community. This could include tourists who are visiting our parks or competing in equine events or simply passing through on the interstate. It also includes the approximately 80,000 people who commute into our community to work. The sales tax ensures they are helping to fund the roads they drive on and the first responders on which they depend.
On November 3rd voters in Marion County will have the chance to extend public safety and highway safety with a FOR vote for the 1% local sales tax. We still have a substantial backlog of equipment needs and transportation projects. Should the sales tax fail to pass, the cost for these improvements will be levied on property owners.
Key facts regarding the sales tax:
- One-percent sales tax limited to 4 years
- January 1, 2021, and sunset on December 31, 2024
- Funding only Public Safety (40%) and transportation infrastructure needs (60%)
- Paid for by all county residents AND visitors
Our number one goal is to ensure that our community is vibrant and prosperous, and the key to that is to have a vibrant, prosperous business community. As a result, we have a program to meet nearly every business need.
Businesses do not have to be CEP Partners to apply. Funds are available to businesses in the following breakdown:
Bridge to Recovery Program – The Bridge to Recovery Program seeks to assist businesses with 25 or fewer employees who have been experiencing continuing negative impacts as a result of the
- The businesses will need to submit an online application demonstrating the negative impact of COVID-19 and will be able to receive up to $15,000.
Moving Forward Program – The Moving Forward Program seeks to assist businesses with 26-100 employees who have been experiencing continuing negative impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The businesses will need to submit an online application demonstrating the negative impact of COVID19 and will be able to borrow up to $40,000.
Testing Capacity Enhancement Grant – The Testing Capacity Enhancement Grant program seeks to assist private labs, clinics, and physician offices which are looking to increase their testing capacity. Business may apply one time for a reimbursement of up to $30,000 for expenses which demonstrate their intention to increase their testing capacity beyond what was previously available. Continue reading