Last month, I outlined the successes of the CEP’s inaugural five-year plan, Moving Forward. In fact, this plan was reached a full year early. This month’s column will be focused on outlining the recently adopted Moving Forward-Phase II plan which seeks to continue to grow and diversify the local economy.
Moving Forward – Phase II
Just like its predecessor, this plan did not just happen. It is the result of months of discussion and research by the CEP staff and Board of Directors. Once again, the Board asked economist Dr. Sharon Younger to assist them in the creation of this plan. She provided an incredible layer of analysis and detail to assist the Board including a significant amount of data on how the Ocala MSA and the CEP compare to our ten benchmark communities.
First, it is important to note what this plan does not change. The CEP’s mission has not changed. The organization continues to exist 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 positive return on investment for our partners. Additionally, the approach remains the same. The CEP will continue to focus on Business Advocacy, Business Attraction, Business Creation, Business Retention, and Business Services.
The Moving Forward – Phase II plans call for the CEP to do more in each area. The following is a highlight of some of the new initiatives or efforts planned to begin implementing over the next five years. In Business Advocacy, the plan calls for the CEP to add an additional team member to grow the opportunities to partner with local and state governments. The plan for Business Creation includes adding a business incubator location in addition to the main Power Plant Business Incubator campus and to create a major business plan competition. This competition would attract would-be entrepreneur from throughout the nation to compete for a significant cash prize ($25,000 is the goal) and residency in the Power Plant. Business Services would see a continued increase in education and networking opportunities through the addition of at least two satellite locations allowing the CEP to better serve all of our community. Business Attraction would be impacted by the addition of a second project manager which would allow our equine engagement director to focus exclusively on how vibrant horse community.
However, Business Retention would see the growth of the most significant new emphasis. More than a third of the new plan is dedicated to implementing a plan for increasing Skills Development and Talent Attraction. Marion County Schools have taken a significant step forward with the re-alignment of skills-based training and the announced creation of the two new Career Choice Academies with the promise of additional academies in the future. Skills Development would work to build connections between the schools and business community and work with all of our education partners on the creation of seamless career ladders. Talent Attraction will work much like Business Attraction but instead of focusing on attracting businesses it will focus on attracting skilled and talented people.
Just as the original Moving Forward plan resulted in the meeting and exceeding of three big goals, the Phase II plan is an effort to meet three even larger goals. By the end of 2021, the CEP will 1) impact the announced creation of 4,500 new jobs. These jobs will 2) pay on average 15% above the current County average wage. These projects will result in 3) a direct capital investment of $400 million. This plan and the meeting of these will continue to diversify and expand our local economy for the benefit of our residents, our businesses and our governments. However, it will only be accomplished if we all partner to keep Ocala and Marion County Moving Forward.