Covering the western edge of Alachua County in the heart of Florida, Newberry is a beautiful and vibrant community that draws visitors for its shopping and dining experiences and businesses for its diverse mix of industries and talented labor force. Long ago, Newberry was a mining town famous for its phosphate, but it turned to agriculture during World War I. Years later, over 5,000 people call Newberry home, and it continues to be a fast-growing area. While much of the area has retained its agricultural heritage, the region has a diverse mix of industries, including business and professional services, logistics, health care and manufacturing. In Newberry is the Town of Tioga, a modern town that is lined with gorgeous houses and premier shopping and restaurants. The Tioga Town Center offers both dining and shopping, but it also often hosts events for people of all ages such as concert series, and the annual Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting in December. The city is developing sports tourism through the Easton-Newberry Archer Center, which trains archers — including Olympic contenders — and the 16-field Nationals Park, which hosts youth baseball tournaments for teams from throughout the Southeastern U.S. Visitors can be transported to the pioneer days in the 1850s at Dudley Farm Historic State Park to experience what life was like for the Dudley family and see the staff do daily chores, such as tend to livestock and raise crops. A visitor can also see what sugar cane farming looks like at the Fall Farm and Cane Festival in December. Among all the festivals celebrated in Newberry, the annual Watermelon Festival in mid-May is a favorite. The festival attracts visitors from across Central Florida and includes free locally grown watermelons, a beauty pageant, seed-spitting contest, hog calling and pie and cake baking. Make sure to see the mammoth melons that compete in the Big Melon contest. Other attractions enjoyed by many include Newberry’s Cornfield Maze and the Annual Newberry Christmas Parade. Newberry’s agricultural history and growing economy provide opportunities for new business and a home for many who cherish the small-town lifestyle. Spanning a land area of 55 square miles, the town of Newberry is located west of Gainesville on Newberry Road (State Route 26) in western Alachua County. Ushering in the New by Cherishing the Past The City of Newberry is launching a new economic development effort based on the theme, “Enhancing the future while embracing the past.” The effort includes a promotion campaign highlighting the city’s business-friendly environment that has helped attract a diverse array of companies. Those companies include the Gourmet Rodent, a producer of rodents and reptiles, and a cement plant purchased in 2014 by Cementos Argos — a Colombiabased conglomerate well-known for its environmentally sensitive practices. The campaign also pays tribute to Newberry’s heritage, as shown by its historic downtown and its small-town sense of community. One resident carrying forth the heritage is Trevor Bass, who won the 2015 Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement in Agriculture Award from the Florida Farm Bureau. Bass combines the old and the new. While he is the fourth generation of his family to farm in Newberry, he is constantly tweaking his mix of crops, with tilapia recently becoming his latest addition. Longtime Newberry builder Norfleet Homes is developing CountryWay Town Square — a retail, office and residential development located north of the central city. Newberry is also touting its sports tourism. The city is the home of the Easton Newberry Sports Complex, which includes an archery center that is an Olympic training site. Newberry also operates Champions Park (formerly called Nations Park), a $7 million, 16-field baseball and softball complex that was built with Alachua County Tourist Development Tax dollars. The economic development push is based on a unified approach by local leaders, said John Hartnett, president of the Newberry- Jonesville Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a testament to all stakeholders who have organized themselves to provide a very good business environment that is in balance with our heritage,” he said. Open-Door Policy Hartnett’s experience illustrates Newberry’s welcoming attitude to new business people. He was elected chamber president just over two years after he moved to town as the vice president of global business development at Endoscopy Replacement Parts, a manufacturing plant with global sales that moved to Newberry in 2006. The city’s Economic Development Steering Committee exemplifies the city’s commitment to synergy, Hartnett said. The committee is very active, yet it is informal, with membership open to anyone who is interested instead of the formality of being appointed by the city commission. “Everyone has a seat at the table, including folks from agriculture, manufacturing, construction and city government,” Hartnett said. Other newcomers who are making an impact include City Manager Mike New and Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas. New came to Newberry from Alachua, where he was public services director, and Thomas brings a background as both a government planner and a real estate agent to his job. Years of Responsible Growth Newberry set the stage for economic development more than 20 years ago, when it began annexing land into the city limits. The city has grown from 1.5 square miles to 54 square miles, which approaches the City of Gainesville’s 62-acre land mass. “City leaders annexed the land to provide a good potential for future growth based on local, business friendly planning,” Thomas said. Newberry is advancing its planning through a proposed update to its comprehensive plan that will be presented to the city commission soon. In addition, a State Route 26 Corridor Study is being completed. Property owners provided most of the money for the study, which covers the area west of the central city to the city limits. “We’re looking at key opportunities to create nicer developments while maintaining the rural feel, something like the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua,” Thomas said. Erasing Barriers Newberry’s business friendly attitude was key in his decision to move the Gourmet Rodent to the city, said company founder Bill Brant. As the company, founded in 1986, grew at its former site off Williston Road, Alachua County officials clamped down on it — following a single complaint, Brant said. They set the requirement that the company obtain a special-use permit with the condition that it cut its number of employees (then 70) to 25 and operate on only five of the 15 acres at its site. Brant turned to Newberry. “What we saw there was open-mindedness,” he said. That open-mindedness started with examining how the business operated. “We determined it could be classified as a manufacturing process, and we modified our comprehensive plan and industrial zoning to accommodate the Gourmet Rodent,” Thomas said. Brant has sold the company to Mike Layman, his longtime manager. When the Gourmet Rodent changed hands, Layman faced a shock — the need to make a $27,000 deposit for his electric service. “He wanted us to trust that he would make his payments,” New said. “We looked at our deposits, and we discovered we had minimal losses from new commercial customers. We eliminated deposits on commercial accounts, and we refunded $45,000 in the first month.” Layman is happy with the accommodation. “I have never worked with any other municipality where I have had such a direct and open line of communication with my city leaders,” he said. “We came to the city looking for a place to do business, and we found a home.” Another business that has relocated to Newberry is Inspired Energy, which manufactures high-tech batteries that have electronic chips to monitor their use and perform other functions. The batteries power small electronic devices used by healthcare organizations, the military and industry. They also power the lights in the costumes of performers in Cirque du Soleil. The company previously operated at the former battery plant located in unincorporated Alachua County outside the City of Alachua. When it sought county approval for a new building, county officials balked, said Dave Baggaley, the sales and marketing director. Inspired Energy talked with Newberry officials, assuring them that it uses battery cells that are manufactured elsewhere and that it assembles them into its battery packs, minimizing any chemical risk. “It’s been great to work with a city that is fully on board,” Baggaley said. The company recently built a second factory next to its current one in the Newberry Commercial Park, and it expects to double its workforce of 75 over the next 10 years. Outside Connections The city has received economic development assistance from the state. This included a $750,000 grant to run sewer and water lines to CountryWay Town Square, $20,000 for an economic development study, $25,000 toward the comprehensive plan update and $40,000 for the economic development marketing plan. The city works closely with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and its Council for Economic Outreach in attracting new business. Newberry’s promotional campaign emphasizes the city’s proximity to Gainesville. “We have the best of both worlds — with three A-rated schools, 22 churches, the agricultural feel, and friendly attitude while being close to Gainesville with its top hospitals, higher education and other opportunities,” said Newberry mayor Bill Conrad. Conrad relates his own story to business prospects. After spending his career in the Air Force, he moved to Newberry 13 years ago. Longtime residents welcomed him and his wife, and he was elected to the city commission within three years. “Not a lot of places are like Newberry, where everyone makes you feel part of the family and takes a shine to you.” SBA Names Newberry Firm as National Exporter of the Year The U.S. Small Business Administration has named Newberry-based Endoscopy Replacement Parts, Inc. (ERPI) as the National Exporter of the Year. “We are so honored and proud to bring this national level award to Florida and the Gainesville region,” said John Hartnett, the company’s vice president of global business development. “We felt that we had a chance to win at the district level, but it is remarkable that we performed this well.” The company will receive the award during Small Business Week activities in Washington, D.C. on May 1 and 2. This acknowledgment follows recognition as the manufacturer of the year for 2015 from the Manufacturers Association of Florida and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. The company has experienced double-digit sales growth annually, and has added customers from 20 more countries over the past three years – bringing the number of countries served to almost 80, Hartnett said. CEO David P. Bello Sr. founded the company in South Florida in 1997, and he moved it to Newberry in 2006. The management team also includes Bello’s son, David A. Bello Jr., who is the General Manager. International sales account for 65 percent of the business for the company, which supplies repair facilities with aftermarket parts for flexible and rigid endoscopy machines — a niche market that is growing as endoscopy testing expands, Hartnett said. The Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida nominated the company for the award. “ERPI has embraced the power of exporting to create quality jobs and to sustain business during domestic economic slowdowns,” said Kate Arroyo, the Small Business Development Center’s international trade specialist. “The company takes pride in employing local, diverse, multigenerational community members spanning from baby boomers to millennials, and to father-son, husband-wife relationships.” ERPI tapped a global business database through the small business development center. “The database provides information at our fingertips about companies in our classification of business around the globe,” Hartnett said. “It gives us information about tariffs, the stability of countries and how much they import U.S. products.” The company also received assistance from Enterprise Florida, including grants for marketing trips to Dubai, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Newberry By The Numbers - 130,000+ well-educated labor force to draw from - 5.90% lower cost of living than the US average - $150,400 median home cost - 22.37% population growth - 18.2 students for every teacher in Newberry - 91.2% of adult residents have a high school diploma or greater - 54 square miles of land area (the 19th largest city by area in Florida)
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