Newberry Means Business
Nearly 130 Years of Growth and Progress – and No Sign of Slowing Down
Where there is a thriving, community-minded city with happy residents, there is a strong city government that supports local business. Newberry offers its citizens a pleasant mix of rural and suburban lifestyle, with a city hall that encourages a diverse range of industries to promote business growth.
Over 20 years ago, Newberry set the stage for economic development when it began annexing land into the city limits. Because of this initiative, the city has grown from 1.5 square miles to 54 square miles. “City leaders annexed the land to provide a good potential for future growth based on local, business friendly planning,” said Director of Planning and Economic Development at the City of Newberry, Bryan Thomas.
The quaint downtown area is brimming with delightful shops, a wide selection of restaurants, historical and government offices, schools, churches and a variety of businesses. Newberry has announced that Publix will soon come to town.
“I can finally say we have a Publix coming,” said Thomas. This will not be any ordinary Publix, as the popular grocery chain anticipates the growth in Newberry to be robust. “The standard floor plan for Publix is about 48,000 square feet. This is going to be 56,000 square feet. They’re building it to accommodate all the growth that is coming over the next several years.”
A History of Reinvention
The development of phosphate mining in the late 1880s signaled the birth of Newberry and ensured steady growth. As a phosphate boom town, business and advancement prospered. That period of expansion ended during World War One.
At the onset of the war in 1914, phosphate mining towns in the United States experienced a decline in business. With Germany as the biggest customer, phosphate manufacturers suffered the consequences of a boycott on all German-related business transactions, yet Newberry persevered.
Celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 1995, Newberry continues to reinvent itself with a vast array of new and existing businesses.
One niche Newberry has carved is in sports tourism. “When I first got here, sports tourism was the big economic development push,” said Thomas.
Champions Park is a 16-diamond open invitational baseball tournament complex, formed in a partnership between the City of Newberry, Nations Baseball Florida, Inc. and the Alachua County Tourism Development Board.
“They originally coined it as the ‘Cooperstown of the South.’ When the University of Florida isn’t having an event that takes up all the hotel rooms, they schedule tournaments out of Champions Park, which fills up all the hotel rooms. I think behind the University of Florida, we’re the second largest generator of heads and beds for the hotel industry at Champions Park.”
Newberry also has an Olympic archery training facility at Easton Newberry Archery Center, which will bring in several thousand people on a weekend during their events. And there is Gatorback, a youth motocross competition space, which brings in 4,000–5,000 people each November.
Growth through Agri-tech research
Newberry’s agricultural history and growing economy provide both opportunity for new business and a home for many who cherish the small-town lifestyle. Its biggest economic development initiative is the development of an agricultural technology park.
“With agriculture being the heritage and history of the community,” said Thomas, “we want to maintain that and figure out a way to create something that is going to provide jobs, economic development and capital investment in the community.”
“The Sid Martin Research Center, in the city of Alachua, they do biotech and started 30 years ago as an incubator of the University of Florida,” said Thomas. “This has spawned some amazing businesses that have grown beyond anybody’s expectation. I think the latest estimate is they employ 1,500 people in biotech.”
“In 2014, we came up with this idea with the Department of Economic Opportunity in Tallahassee. We were a pilot program for what they called, ‘Competitive Florida,’ which was Governor Scott’s outreach for small rural communities for economic development and growth.”
This initiative led to an economic development strategy that included a concept of an agricultural technology park “using the model of what’s already occurred up in Alachua, but from the agricultural technology standpoint,” according to Thomas.
Newberry is a unique community that is attracting newcomers in droves. “It’s a great group of people,” said local business owner and property developer, David McDaniel of M3 Development. “They’re not anti-growth, which is the case in many places, and respond to growth.”
McDaniel said he started his business in Newberry building 50 lots at a time and is now building 134 in one month. “We feel confident that the future in Newberry is strong and the demand for housing is going to continue to be in place. There is a sweet spot, and Newberry is finding that sweet spot. And the fact that Publix is coming to town is huge.”