North Central Florida is largely thought of as a home to Old Florida’s natural history whose growth is rooted in Gainesville, and whose innovation is fostered by the University of Florida. But the strength of Alachua County runs deeper. Bridging both the beauty of its natural resources with the foresight and vision of commerce, the many towns and cities surrounding Gainesville offer growth opportunities that are as unique and colorful as their own history.
A little more than half the geographical size of Gainesville, Alachua lies just to the northwest, with a growing population of nearly 10,000. The abundance of undeveloped land creates great opportunity for investment and Alachua has already seen some early projects begin to pay off.
Born as a start-up at University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, Nanotherapeutics invested over $130 million into the development of their manufacturing facilities after the biopharmaceutical company was awarded a contract from the Department of Defense in 2013. Today, Nanotherapeutics is a leader in its industry and has a 183,000-square-foot, state of the art, multipurpose and multiproduct biologics and vaccine facility in Alachua.
Along with the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator and Nanotherapeutics, Alachua is home to other bioscience and technology companies including RTI Biologics, a leading global surgical implant company; AxoGen, a nerve graft developer; InterMed Group, a medical equipment sales and training company; as well as the UF Center of Excellence for Regenerative Health Biotechnology.
Additional investments in Alachua include Legacy Park to enhance the area’s recreational offerings. Phase 1 includes the construction of a 39,000-square-foot facility that is planned to house basketball and volleyball courts, a performance stage, and several multipurpose rooms. Surrounded by picnic areas and hiking and biking trails, Legacy Park is intended as a large draw for sports enthusiasts throughout the region.
Home for many years to music legend Bo Diddley, Archer borders Gainesville to the southwest and has a population of just over 1,000 people.
Archer’s main employer, Maddox Foundry and Machine Works, has been an industrial foundry machine and fabrication shop, specializing in customized repair work since 1905. Archer is also home to Santa Fe College’s satellite campus and the Archer Railroad Museum.
The city of Hawthorne is home to approximately 1,800 residents and is located on the eastern border of Alachua County. According to Hawthorne’s website, it is a “hub of recreation, with 400 lakes in the area and multiple opportunities for hunting, fishing and biking.” But that is not all this quaint town offers.
In 2015 Hawthorne annexed just under 1,200 acres of land owned by Weyerhaeuser, a timber company (formerly Plum Creek), through the Envision Alachua Plan. On March 21 of this year, the Hawthorne City Commission approved an ordinance change to bring development of that land to the next step. The plan is for the development of the Envision Alachua-Hawthorne Employment Center that will be zoned for several uses, including industrial, mixed-use and conservation.
Perhaps housing Florida’s best-kept secret, High Springs is home to many of the region’s most beautiful natural springs. Attracting tourists, swimmers, and snorkelers alike, High Springs includes the crystal clear 72 degree waters of Ginnie Springs, Blue Springs, the Ichetucknee River and Poe Springs, as well as the Santa Fe River and O’Leno State Park.
With a population of over 5,500, High Springs has a downtown area that is a destination in itself. Boasting shops, galleries and restaurants, High Springs is also known for its great antiquing. Since 2015 the town has invested roughly $79,000 directly to 17 businesses in High Springs to improve their facades through the Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA will again offer a commercial façade matching grant program in April, 2017. High Springs is located about 20 miles northwest of Gainesville in Alachua County.
Keep driving west on University Avenue and it quickly becomes Newberry Road, leading directly to the growing town of Newberry, Florida. Identified by many for its appealing, modern shopping and dining area, The Tioga Town Center, Newberry also continues to hold onto and celebrate its agricultural roots.
It is this contrast that makes Newberry so special. While the Dudley Farm Historic State Park brings visitors back to the farming days of the 1850s, and the Newberry Watermelon Festival held every May brings Americana to our doorstep, Newberry also hosts a Winter Fine Arts Festival in Tioga and is home to a great mix of industries including logistics, healthcare and manufacturing.
In Town of Tioga alone, you can find a Starbucks location just a few doors down from a locally owned and operated women’s clothing boutique, Down-to-Earth. Multiple restaurants and lounges, a bakery and playground are just a few of the amenities offered to residents and visitors of Newberry.
With state of the art recreational facilities such as the Easton Newberry Sports Complex, as well as Champions Park, a 16-field baseball and softball complex attracting more than 30,000 visitors annually, Newberry has become a destination for many sports enthusiasts and their families.
For small businesses, Newberry provides the opportunity and room to grow. Newberry-based Endoscopy Replacement Parts, Inc. was honored by the Manufacturers Association of Florida as the 2015 Manufacturer of the Year and in 2016 was named by the U.S. Small Business Administration as the National Exporter of the Year.
Founded in 1820, Waldo is one of the oldest towns in Alachua County. The quiet town lies to the northeast of Gainesville and is home to just over 1,000 residents. But drive to Waldo on any given weekend and that population will seem to explode. Searching for undiscovered treasure, up to 40,000 people each weekend flock to the Waldo Farmers and Flea Market to visit over 900 dealers and vendors. The Market sits just off of Highway 301 on 50 acres and has a 20,000-square-foot antique mall, as well.
By Kathryn Pizzurro