The City of Alachua’s economy is thriving, with major advances in manufacturing, technology and sports tourism. “Our investments in the future are paying off,” Mayor Gib Coerper said. “We have a little of everything while maintaining our quaint, walkable feel.” The recent progress includes the following: • Nanotherapeutics Inc. completed a $135 million manufacturing plant for products that fight bioterrorism • An agreement between Alachua-based Applied Genetic Technologies Corp. and Massachusetts-based Biogen that could pay AGTC up to $1 billion over time for license and commercialization rights to several of its gene-based therapies • Beginning of construction implementing a master plan for Legacy Park, a 105-acre site next to the city’s Hal Brady Recreation Complex These accomplishments point to a sustainable future with a strong tax base and abundant jobs while maintaining a small-town feel. The road ahead looks far better than when Coerper moved to town in the early 1970s. The city was one square mile in size, the population was just over 2,000. Annexations have increased the area of the city to 36 square miles — more than half the 49 square miles of the City of Gainesville. The city limits stretch southeast to the Turkey Creek community and northwest of Interstate 75 to the site of distribution centers for Dollar General, Walmart and Sysco. The population is approaching 10,000. Not only is downtown thriving, but big box shopping is strong with the addition of a Lowe’s and a Publix. A Wal-Mart Supercenter is also scheduled to be built. Homegrown businesses are holding their own despite competition from national chains, Coerper said. “Alachua Farm & Lumber was worried when Lowe’s came in, but they’ve found a niche in guns and western wear,” he said. The city is a regional job center, employing 5,000, with many of the workers coming from elsewhere in Alachua County and surrounding counties, Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari said. Many jobs are in Progress Corporate Park. Employers include RTI, a leading international provider of implants used for orthopedic and dental surgeries and other applications, and AxoGen, which makes innovative products that repair peripheral nerve damage. Other major employers in town include Sandvik, which manufactures large machines in mining, and sailboat manufacturer Marlow-Hunter. “Marlow-Hunter is continuing Hunter’s heritage of shipping boats all over the world,” said Edward Potts, past president of the Alachua Chamber of Commerce. Legacy Park Recreation, sports tourism and events that attract visitors are vital to the community, Coerper said. Many activities, including the Fourth of July fireworks display that attracts 30,000 people and the Babe Ruth World Series tournaments, are centered at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, located at the northwest edge of the historic central city. The city jumped into action when a site next to the current recreation complex went on the market in 2010 because the current facilities are maxed out, Boukari said. The property had a development potential of 200 homes. “We wanted to preserve this land and combine it with the Hal Brady Recreation Complex to create a beautiful park with rolling hills,” Boukari said. The city mounted a fundraising drive for the land, and it purchased the property with funds from two Alachua County funding sources, the Wild Places, Public Places sales tax and the Tourist Development Tax, as well as private donations and city dollars. Over the past year and a half, the city reached out to the community for ideas to create a master plan for Legacy Park. “We wanted ideas to provide diverse opportunities and amenities on this large swath of property,” Boukari said. The consultant team consisting of CHW Professional Consultants, Buford Davis and Associates Landscape Architect and Paul Stresing Associates helped develop the master plan. It calls for building a 39,000-square-foot multipurpose building that will include four courts for basketball or volleyball, locker rooms, meeting rooms, restrooms and offices. The master plan also includes three multipurpose fields, two full-size Babe Ruth League baseball fields, six tennis courts and an amphitheater. “We want to attract tournaments, increasing our sports tourism, but our first priority is to provide enough facilities so our residents don’t have to drive an hour to play sports,” Boukari said. Working Through Opportunities and Challenges The level of cooperation that is leading to Legacy Park and the growth of technology and manufacturing has deep roots, Coerper said. Some of those roots began decades ago, when the city encountered both good fortune and misfortune. The city was fortunate in landing an Interstate 75 intersection with U.S. Route 441 when the interstate highway was built during the 1960s. One payoff was a growth of highwayoriented businesses. Another payoff is that the interchange provides easy access for distribution centers. Major misfortunes were the closing of two factories — a sausage plant and a battery plant. In 1978, the Copeland Sausage Plant shut down, laying off 400 workers and eliminating its purchase of hogs from area farmers. “Copeland was a huge part of the community,” said David Pope, a longtime business leader. “When the plant closed, this town just died.” A battery plant located just outside the city limits on U.S. Route 441 closed in the early 2000s. The plant, which General Electric built in 1963, employed 2,000 workers at its peak. A series of owners tried to make a go of various battery technologies in the face of growing competition from Asia. Finally, the owner of Moltech Power Systems sold the plant to a Chinese company that closed it and shipped some of the equipment to China. A building block for today’s economy in Alachua was the construction of a sewer plant with plenty of excess capacity in 1976. The sewer plant, which was later doubled in capacity, became critical to major industrial and residential growth that continues today. “The main difference between Alachua and High Springs economically is that we have sewer,” said Rick Robertson, owner of the Conestogas Restaurant. The downtown came back to life in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The redesign of Main Street — with ample parking and a pedestrian friendly feel — set the stage for the renaissance. Private owners who renovated buildings also helped, said former Alachua Mayor Jean Calderwood. “For years, we’ve had business people and city government working together to make a lot of great things happen,” she said. Regional Player Alachua business and government leaders are involved in regional planning and development efforts. Coerper and other city officials are active in groups such as the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, the Alachua County League of Cities and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. The city — with a $100,000 commitment — is the only municipality in the county that is contributing to the Transforming Greater Gainesville five-year strategic plan from the Council for Economic Outreach, the Gainesville chamber’s job-creation arm. The Alachua Chamber of Commerce is a paying member of the CEO, and the Gainesville and Alachua chambers are working together on business recruitment. A key selling point is the developable land that is available in the 280-acre corporate park that the University of Florida Foundation owns on farmland adjacent to Progress Corporate Park. “Alachua has the land available that will help the growth of the entirety of Alachua County,” Potts said. Legacy Park Expanding Opportunities The City of Alachua worked with people from throughout Alachua County to enhance its strong parks and recreation program. It acquired 200 acres that had a development potential of 200 homes and developed a master plan for Legacy Park – which is adjacent to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex at the southwest corner of the central city. The city is implementing Legacy Park Phase I, which includes the construction of a 39,000 square-foot multipurpose facility that will house four full-sized basketball/ volleyball courts, several multipurpose rooms, performance stage and support facilities. Additional features include a new entry drive, multiuse trails and picnic pavilions. “This facility will be the only one of its kind in the area and will provide our residents with access to even more recreational and cultural opportunities,” said City Manager Traci Gresham. “Additionally, we will be well positioned to build upon the sports tourism opportunities in our region.” Home of Leading Biotech Incubator The Sid Martin Biotechnology Institute is a world-recognized leader in biotechnology business incubation — with well-equipped laboratories and a strong network of mentors, advisors and collaborators. The incubator, which the University of Florida operates, has graduated more than 50 companies, which have generated more than $1.5 billion in revenues and other funding. The International Business Innovation Association named it the Incubator of the Year in 2013. During 2016, the incubator welcomed 10 companies, bringing it to 95 percent of its capacity. The new companies include the following: • Assembly Biosciences, Inc., which has developed new oral treatment for hepatitis B • Curtiss Healthcare, Inc., which is developing a salmonella vaccine • AlphaChem Innovations, Inc., which markets an insecticide for the mites that kill honey bees • Amend Surgical, which is developing and marketing a group of bone graph substitutes “These companies, with game-changing technologies, have come to the right place,” said Director Mark Long. “Our incubator is an innovation engine able to offer entrepreneurs and inventors the tremendous resources of the University of Florida.” Heroes Improve Lives of People with Nerve Damage Shirley Pincus is thankful for her heroes – the people who created a treatment that ended her battle with pain. Pincus benefited from AxoGen, the Alachuabased company that developed a nerve graft that is changing lives. Pincus got polio in 1954, right before the polio vaccine came to her community. Although she had some weakness on her left side and had undergone corrective surgery when she was young, she had lived a relatively normal life until a few years ago. At that point, her pain began. “It was stabbing and jolting, the most horrendous feeling I’ve experienced in my life,” she said. She tried several treatments to no avail, including having the tips of two of her toes amputated and receiving nerve blocks. At last, she discovered Edgardo Rodriguez and Roberto Segura, Chicago physicians who had begun to use AxoGen’s nerve graphs. They then performed surgery that removed damaged nerve tissue from three places in Pincus’ leg and repaired it with AxoGen’s nerve graph, which is processed from donated human nerve tissue. “The pain I had endured for five to six years was gone in a day,” Pincus said. The members of the team working with AxoGen are her heroes, and Drs. Rodriguez and Segura are her angels, Pincus said. The heroes include members of a research team headed by David Muir, a UF professor of pediatrics and neuroscience. A member of that team is Christine E. Schmidt, Pruitt Family Professor and chair of UF’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. Schmidt began working with Muir while she was on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin and then moved to UF. “Gainesville has a very entrepreneurial community,” she said. “That was a huge draw. I feel like a kid in a candy shop.” Progress Corporate Park Progress Corporate Park in Alachua is the home for the many bioscience, technology and professional services companies. Its many tenants include the following: • The University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator • RTI Biologics, a surgical implant company • The UF Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology • The InterMed Group, a medical equipment sales, service and training company • NCCER (originally The National Center for Construction Education and Research), which provides a standardized training and credentialing program for the construction industry Nearly 1,200 people now work in the Progress Corporate Park. Santa Fe College’s Charles R. and Nancy V. Perry of Emerging Technologies Center is directly across U.S. 441 from the park.
Published by Business in the Heart of Florida. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://omagdigital.com/article/Alachua/2694538/378757/article.html.