As Gainesville continues to grow at an exponential pace, it’s important not to forget that small business are the lifeblood of our town. There are a lot of really wonderful people here doing great things that seemingly go underappreciated sometimes. While I believe the relationship between large-scale commercial developments and small, local business is one of reciprocity, it’s important to continue the recognition of the mom-and-pop shops. Growth is a good thing, and we must embrace it as it is inevitable, but it is up to us how the growth takes shape. Without the big box stores and the amenities that bigger cities provide, Gainesville will continue to be a heavily transient city. Local business that has to depend heavily on students for business tend to suffer through the summer time in our current economy.
If you talk to a UF student or young professional and ask them why they may not see themselves living in Gainesville for the long-term their answers may vary, but the vast majority always seem to answer “there’s nothing to do” or “there’s no jobs.” Every year, many of Florida’s best and brightest are counting down the days until graduation so they can bolt. The big city amenities and job opportunities that the rapid development brings will play a key factor in retaining these people. Look no further than the booming starter-home market on the west side of town as indication this is already happening.
So while more and more graduates are choosing to remain, start-up companies are flourishing, and new shopping centers are opening their doors, we mustn’t forget local business. This is an opportunity for more of a customer base, for more consistent business throughout the calendar year, and for a chance at a greater talent pool. While it’s good to embrace the big box stores, don’t forget the homegrown restaurants, bars, and specialty shops. It’s up to us to spread the message. Gainesville is growing up, and it’s up to us to continue steering it down the right path. Otherwise, everyone will just be eating at a generic, soul-less restaurant owned by the Rascal Flatts.