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Open for Business: A Look at Alachua, Hawthorne and Newberry

Open for Business: A Look at Alachua, Hawthorne and Newberry

Gainesville is known as the crown of Alachua County. It offers fine arts, advanced healthcare and comfortable housing. Not to be overshadowed by Gainesville, however, the other cities in the Greater Gainesville area are rapidly advancing in size, technology, manufacturing and business.

Hawthorne Continues to Grow

Plum Creek (now Weyerhaeuser), the timber company with extensive holdings in eastern Alachua County, began plans with city officials in Hawthorne to develop a portion of the area — a project that would be the size of a new city. The company planned to annex some land into the city and develop other larger holdings in the unincorporated area.

Hawthorne unified in a 5-0 vote in November 2015 that annexed some of the company’s land into the city — increasing Hawthorne’s area by 36 percent.

The follow-up to the annexation is taking place in two ways. First, Weyerhaeuser is developing a rezoning proposal for its Hawthorne land north of State Road 20 — based on mixed use — with the goal of completing the rezoning by January 2017. Second, the company is working with Enterprise Florida and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce to market the land.

Hawthorne’s annexation contrasts with the Alachua County Commission’s March 3-2 vote to reject Weyerhaeuser’s proposed sector plan, which would have developed 3,380 acres in the unincorporated area while protecting 25,000 acres from development. The result would have created the potential for a research and development park associated with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, manufacturing plants, distribution centers, retail stores and homes — with a 50-year build-out.

The county commission vote followed lengthy public hearings in which proponents of the sector plan lauded the potential of creating up to 30,000 jobs, while opponents claimed the project would harm the environment and promote urban sprawl. The Hawthorne City Commission faced a similar division in testimony at its public hearings.

The Weyerhaeuser annexation is accompanied by the following major accomplishments that are breathing new vitality into the Hawthorne area while protecting the environment:

  • A Love’s truck stop with a McDonald’s is scheduled to open in August, replacing the closed Cracker Boys’ Country Café on U.S. 301.
  • The Putnam Land Conservancy partnered with the city in purchasing 1,100 acres that is part of the Little Orange Creek Nature Park. A 5,000-square-foot home on the property will become an event center.
  • The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail is being extended through downtown, ending at the nature preserve.
  • The State of Florida is widening State Road 20 east of Hawthorne.
  • A new feed store and a furniture store have opened, and the closed theater is reopening.

This progress follows more than five years of infrastructure improvements, mostly funded by state grants. With the $7 million that Love’s is investing, public and private improvements that have been completed or planned since 2010 total more than $18 million, City Manager Ellen Vause said. These improvements include a new water tower, replacement of water lines, the nature park project (which totals $4.5 million), a new Alachua County Fire Rescue Station (through $800,000 of county funds), and the extension of the bike and walking trail through downtown.

The land that Weyerhaeuser is developing within Hawthorne includes 1,198 acres that the city annexed and 165 acres that were previously within the city limits. Most of this land is now in forestry. The land that’s targeted for development is at the end of a winding 2.5-mile trail that starts on State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road). At the end of the trail, it abuts a CSX rail line that is a major freight carrier through Florida. Weyerhaeuser also hopes to connect the land to U.S. 301 at that point. The Hawthorne land is important for economic development benefitting Hawthorne, Alachua County and the entire state of Florida, said Gray Swoope, who is advising Weyerhaeuser on planning uses of the property.

The Hawthorne land is important for economic development benefitting Hawthorne, Alachua County and the entire state of Florida, said Gray Swoope, who is advising Weyerhaeuser on planning uses of the property.

City of Newberry Attracts New Business

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 Colombia-based conglomerate well-known for its environmentally sensitive practices. 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. The campaign also pays tribute to Newberry’s heritage, as shown by its historic downtown and its small-town sense of community.

Longtime Newberry builder Norfleet Homes is developing Country Way Town Square — a retail, office and residential development located north of the central city. 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.

The development is exemplary of Newberry’s welcoming attitude to new business people. 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.

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 works director, and Thomas brings a background as both a government planner and a real estate agent to his job.

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 square mile land mass.

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.

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.

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.

City of Alachua’s Economic Advances

The City of Alachua’s economy is thriving, with major advances in manufacturing, technology and sports tourism.

The recent progress includes the following:

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  • Nanotherapeutics Inc. completed a $135 million manufacturing plant for products that fight bioterrorism.
  • An agreement between Alachua-based Applied Genetic Technologies Corp. and Massachusetts-based Biogen that could pay AGTC up to $1 billion over time for license and commercialization rights to several of its gene-based therapies.
  • Preparation of the design drawings for a $330 million medical isotope production plant that Coquí Radio Pharmaceuticals Corp. plans to build in the city.
  • Development of a master plan for Legacy Park, a 105-acre site next to the city’s Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

These accomplishments point to a sustainable future with a strong tax base and abundant jobs while maintaining a small-town feel.

Annexations have increased the area of the city to 29 square miles — more than half the 49 square miles of the City of Gainesville. The city limits stretch southeast to the Turkey Creek community and northwest of Interstate 75 to the site of distribution centers for Dollar General, Wal-Mart and Sysco.

The population is approaching 10,000. Not only is downtown thriving, but big box shopping is also abundant with the addition of a Lowe’s and a Publix. A Walmart Supercenter is also scheduled to be built now that an agreement has been reached addressing environmental issues Alachua County Government had raised in a lawsuit. The city is a regional job center, employing 5,000, with many of the workers coming from elsewhere in Alachua County and surrounding counties, assistant city manager, Adam Boukari said.

Many jobs are in Progress Corporate Park. Employers include RTI, a leading international provider of implants used for orthopedic and dental surgeries and other applications, and AxoGen, which makes innovative products that repair peripheral nerve damage.

Other major employers in town include Sandvik, which manufactures large machines in mining, and sailboat manufacturer Marlow-Hunter. Marlow-Hunter is the new name for Hunter Marine. David Marlow, owner of Palmetto-based Marlow Yachts, bought Hunter after its parent company went bankrupt.

Recreation, sports tourism and events that attract visitors are vital to the community.  Many activities, including the Fourth of July fireworks display that attracts 30,000 people and the Babe Ruth World Series tournaments, are centered at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, located at the northwest edge of the historic central city.  The city jumped into action when a site next to the current recreation complex went on the market in 2010 because the current facilities are maxed out, Boukari said. The property had a development potential of 200 homes.

The city mounted a fundraising drive for the land, and it purchased the property with funds from two Alachua County funding sources, the Wild Places, Public Places sales tax and the Tourist Development Tax, as well as private donations and city dollars.

Over the past year, the city has reached out to the community for ideas to create a master plan for Legacy Park.  It calls for building a 36,000-square-foot multipurpose building that will include four courts for basketball or volleyball, locker rooms, meeting rooms, restrooms and offices. The master plan also includes three multipurpose fields, two full-size Babe Ruth League baseball fields, six tennis courts and an amphitheater.

Alachua business and government leaders are involved in regional planning and development efforts. City officials are active in groups such as the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization, the Alachua County League of Cities and the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The city — with a $100,000 commitment — is the only municipality in the county that is contributing to the Transforming Greater Gainesville five-year strategic plan from the Council for Economic Outreach, the Gainesville chamber’s job-creation arm.

The Alachua Chamber of Commerce is a paying member of the CEO, and the Gainesville and Alachua chambers are working together on business recruitment, Alachua Chamber President Potts said.

The involvement with CEO reaped a dividend when Coquí decided to locate its manufacturing plant — which will be the first large-scale provider of nuclear isotopes in the

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