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.
Business Creation coordinates all of the CEP’s entrepreneurship efforts. Assisting would be entrepreneurs and small business owners is an important part of both the CEP’s mission and the growth of our community. While these efforts are most often associated with the Power Plant Business Incubator, the Business Creation team works with more than 400 entrepreneurs a year the majority of which will never by incubator residents.
Our newest effort in this area is our IMPACT initiative sponsored by Ausley Construction. IMPACT focuses on expanding access to entrepreneurship in West Ocala, Silver Springs Shores, and Marion Oaks. We run multiple cohorts of the nationally recognized FastTrac program to provide 10-weeks of entrepreneurship training. Successfully completing these programs hosted with the City of Ocala qualifies a business as a Diverse Small Business Enterprise. Additionally, we recently completed a Microenterprise Loan Program targeting businesses in these areas with both the City and the County.
We recently received the latest estimates from the US Census Bureau, the Ocala Metro continues to be one of the fastest growing in the nation. As of 30 June 2020, the Ocala Metro had a population of more than 373,000. Our growth rate ranked as the 10th fastest in the nation and we now rank as the 146th largest metro out of nearly 400.