I am not sure how one could view 2019 as anything but an incredibly successful year for the Ocala Metro. The CEP is excited to review how our community continues to grow, diversify, and prosper.
The local economy continues to demonstrate very strong fundamentals. As of the time of this writing, the local unemployment rate was a record seasonal low of 3.5%. But more importantly, the area recorded a Job Growth Rate of 3.1%. This number is not only strong but it is higher than the state average and nearly double the national average! The Ocala Metro is recording job growth while at the same time seeing wages report health gains.
Our newest major employer opened in February when McLane Company opened their new 400,000 sq. ft. distribution facility at Ocala International Commerce Park. The company now employs more than 500 people at this facility. Red Rock Development began construction this summer on a new 620,000 sq. ft. spec building in the Ocala/Marion County Commerce Park along the interstate. This new facility is significant in a couple of ways: 1) it will result in a $43 million investment in our community and 2) it represents a major investment in the growth of Ocala as a distribution hub. That a major developer like Red Rock was willing to make this investment on spec (or speculation meaning they do not have a tenant already lined up for the building) has further enhanced the community’s reputation as a place to do business.
The industrial growth does not stop there. Cardinal LG completed and opened their new 400,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in the Meadowbrook Commerce Park. With their second local facility, the company now employs more than 650 people locally. Additionally, the company has located their LG division headquarters here and announced plans to open a LG Tech Center in Ocala. Fidelity Manufacturing opened a second facility in Ocala as well this year and now employs approximately 200 people.
I am hopeful that by the time this article goes to print, we will have announced or be in the process of announcing two more major additions to our community. These projects will result in a combined addition of more than 900 jobs and a capital investment in excess of $320 million. Growing and diversifying our economy is a key objective and we are excited to continue to see this momentum.
But the growth is not restricted to industrial. One need only to come downtown to notice the continuing growth and changes. The new Hilton Garden Inn is drawing closer to completion, multiple new restaurants have opened, the new Osceola Trak is finally open, and several residential projects will begin construction in the new year. As much as downtown has changed in the last three years, it is nothing compared to what is in store for the next three!
The CEP is very proud of the role we are able to play in each of these successes along with dozens of additional projects around the community. We have continued to see great growth across our organization especially with our efforts at engaging education providers and students (NEXTworks).
A truly amazing partnership is growing between Marion County Public Schools, Marion Technical College, the College of Central Florida, and the business community especially when it comes to skills. There is an ever-growing recognition nationally that we have neglected the importance and value of skills and the tide is turning. The partnership described above is not only an example of this turn but quickly becoming a state and national model for how it should be done. The seven Career Choice Academies, NEXTworking, CTE to post-secondary alignment, soft skills initiative, are just a few of the many efforts to work together. I would encourage everyone, even the most ardent critic, to watch this partnership. It is catalyst which will drive our community to long-term success.
There are so many important and impactful initiatives which I wish I could highlight; however, I am going to close with a recognition which is very meaningful. The CEP was again named one of three finalists for national Chamber of the Year. This is the second time in three years for the CEP to earn this recognition from our peers. It is much more than accolades for our staff and leadership; this recognition highlights for the nation the incredible partnerships and can-do attitude of our community.