Plum Creek, the largest landowner in Alachua County, completed the second phase of its Envision Alachua economic development process on Dec. 13 when it submitted its long-term master plan to the county for approval.
The submittal is the result of two years — 2011 to 2013 — worth of community workshops and task force meetings to determine the most appropriate use of Plum Creek’s lands between Gainesville and Hawthorne. The approval process will likely take until the end of next year, during which Plum Creek will continue to hold more community meetings and workshops.
What Plum Creek and the community have arrived at is a master plan that includes 87 percent of the land kept open for conservation and 13 percent for economic and housing development. The specific area usage map shows large areas of land open for development surrounding a 2,000-foot-wide wildlife corridor and surrounded by conservation and rural lands that the task force has taken care to leave alone at the requests of residents of the area.
What Plum Creek, Alachua County and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce hope to attract to the area are large, high-tech manufacturers and startups spun out of the University of Florida and downtown Gainesville with job opportunities for high school graduates on up to Ph.D.s.
Plum Creek has allocated in its master plan 6 million square feet of R&D/office/institutional space for an estimated 18,000 to 24,000 potential jobs and 8 million square feet of advanced manufacturing space for an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 potential jobs.
Adrian Taylor, pastor of Springhill Baptist Church and vice president of Innovation Gainesville (iG), said that during a presentation at the Chamber by Al Stimac, the president of the Manufacturing Association of Florida, Stimac cited increasing costs of overseas production and indicators of increased interest in Florida by large manufacturers as a good sign for growth in the region. Alachua County already has 200 manufacturers that employ 4,000 residents, Taylor said, so the idea of rising to 6,000 or even hitting the estimated 12,000 isn’t far-fetched.
“If we don’t do this then what?” Taylor asked of critics of the project. “To say that we don’t need this is to say you’re OK with people having to work two or three jobs to put food on the table.”
The plan allows for greater expanse of industry, including advanced manufacturing, advanced logistics and advanced agriscience, he said, and allows recruiters to go out with a portfolio to show, because manufacturers are going to want to know that Alachua has the space and the workforce.
The perfect vision, he said, is to have intellectual properties come out of UF, have the facilities available to build them here, have programs through Santa Fe College to train workers on the new technology and connect with incubators like the Innovation Hub and the newly proposed Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center redevelopment so that Alachua keeps talent and industry here, instead of having it start here and then leave.
Dug Jones, the associate vice president for economic development at the Santa Fe Center for Innovation and Economic Development, said that the goals now are to maintain a listening ear with the community and start the process of preparing for potential industry.
“There is stuff we can do in the meantime,” he said “We can start programs to show people we’re serious.”
Santa Fe already offers training and support services, he said, and in the spring plans to offer online community education courses with an ultimate eye toward job training. In addition, Santa Fe plans to offer an engineering technician associate degree in 2014
“With our proximity to CSX rail, 301, the Jacksonville port,the Lake City (Plum Creek) development, all this change coming to our region,” Jones said. “This is about being intentional about how we’re going to fit into that.”