The Ocala MSA ended the year with a run of national rankings which will frame the state of the local economy quite well. The area ranked #3 on U-Haul’s List of the Top 25 Cities for Growth. This ranking aligns well with previous analysis which showed the 25-34-year-old segment as the fastest growing demographic locally. Additionally, the area ranked among the top mid-sized metros in rankings for manufacturing (Advisor Smith) and entrepreneurship (Cloud Kitchen). All of these accolades reflect the area’s continued significant growth along with a diversifying economic base.
Two major primary employment announcements occurred during the year. Dollar Tree announced plans to construct a 1.7 million sq. ft. distribution center in the new Florida Crossroads Commerce Park which will result in a capital investment of more than $210 million and will create 700 new jobs. This will be the first facility in the new Florida Crossroads Commerce Park seeking to ignite growth in the southwest portion of the community. GTI, a publicly traded company in Canada, announced that an affiliate had purchased the former Mark III complex and would begin redevelopment efforts in the first quarter of 2020. The company is a major player in the medical cannabis industry and the complex will be a cultivation and processing facility. The first phase of the project will result in a $20 million investment and the creation of 100 new jobs.
New facilities for the McLane Company and Cardinal LG came online during the year resulting in the addition of 500 and 150 new jobs respectively and a combined capital investment of $130 million. Expansion activity remained strong with a number of companies adding space, equipment, and shifts. Leading the expansion efforts, Fidelity Manufacturing purchased and renovated a closed furniture plant along the interstate and reopened it as their second facility.
The fastest growing segment of the local economy continues to be health care. The segment is now the largest employer with more than 24,000 jobs and the area consistently ranks in the top 3 in the state in monthly job growth in this sector. The elimination of the certificate of need requirement for many new health care facilities has resulted in a sharp increase in health care investment and plans with the two primary providers (Ocala Health and AdventHealth Ocala) leading the way.
Housing continued to demonstrate growth with both the sale of existing homes and new home construction posting strong gains over the year. The number of homes sold, average price, and median price all posted solid gains over the year while the inventory continued a steady downward trend. The commercial and industrial markets also remained strong recording significant sales of the Market Street lifestyle center ($50 million) and the former Kmart Distribution Center ($70 million).