The Greater Ocala Region is well known for its wide open spaces, beautiful Florida climate and nationally recognized equestrian activities. Historically, “snowbirds” have flocked to Florida to enjoy our temperate winters, but recent economic studies are showing another trend. Marion County is experiencing an impressive increase in permanent residents due to strong economic factors driven by a robust economy and growing regional industries.
With notable statistics published by US News and World Report, the US Census Bureau and Advisor Smith, our interest peaked in learning more about our region’s economic growth. Read on to learn how the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partners (CEP), led by Kevin Sheilley, has become Marion County’s official experts on economic growth and development in the region.
Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partners Awarded 2020 USA Chamber of the Year!
Kevin Sheilley, originally a native of Louisville, Kentucky, joined the Ocala Metro CEP when it merged with the Chamber in 2012. As published on the Ocala CEP website, “Sheilley’s strategy of aggressive and coordinated efforts in new business attraction, existing business retention, and business creation (entrepreneurship) coupled with a focus on education and workforce development, have made him a respected leader in innovative regional development.”
Kevin has built an impressive resume, having worked in economic development throughout his career in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. He’s incredibly proud that Marion County CEP was named the 2020 USA Chamber of the Year, a true reflection of his team’s remarkable efforts and positive growth in our region.
Marion County Economic Growth – Proof Is In the Numbers
The Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partners recently released a detailed report on all the growth factors in Marion County, based on multiple sources, including the US Census Bureau statistics from 2020. The following statistics were released by the team at Ocala Metro CEP, through President, Kevin Sheilley. Several key economic growth indicators put Marion County firmly on the map as one of the top growing places to live and work in the nation!
- Real Estate is Booming. Building permits are up 130% since 2019. (Data Source – Ocala Metro CEP)
- Median Household Income grew 31.4% faster than the average US 2016-2020 (Data Source – 2021 Environics, Claritas)
- Ocala has the 10th fastest growth rate in the nation. (Data Source – US Census Bureau)
- Ocala is the 5th Fastest Growing Metro (Data Source – US News and World Report)
- Marion Metro is Top 20 for Output & Employment Growth (Data Source – Advisor Smith)
- Ocala Metro area ranked #6 fastest growing metro, #6 best place to retire, #4 safest metro (Data Source – US News 2020)
- U-Haul named Ocala the #3 City for Growth in 2019 and #6 in 2020 for their younger demographic of movers.
Commercial Industries That are Driving Growth
According to the Ocala Metro CEP, the following sectors represent the fastest growing industries in Marion County:
- Logistics & Distribution Facilities
- Device Manufacturing
- Biotech & Research
- Doctors, Nurses & Pharmacists HR, Administrative & Management Professionals
- Equestrian Industry & Sports Facilities
- Travel & Tourism
Of notable importance is the $500 million Health Care Capital Investment, which is underway at Ocala Health Systems, AdventHealth Ocala and West Marion Community Hospital. In addition, major US companies such as Amazon, Chewy, Fedex, Lockheed Martin, E-ONE, AT&T, Walmart, Publix Supermarkets, Cardinal LG, and Pella Windows all have headquarters in Ocala.
Ocala, long known as ‘The Horse Capital of the World’, continues to enjoy a boom in the horse industry due to the opening of the World Equestrian Center (WEC), the nation’s largest multi-breed show complex, the convention center and luxury resort. With year round activities for dog and horse enthusiasts, the WEC has transformed Ocala into a major tourism destination in northern Florida.
In addition, another massive sports complex “FAST” (the Florida Aquatic Swimming & Training Facility) is scheduled to launch in March 2022,. This state of the art training and competition facility is located in southwest Ocala near Top of the World. FAST’s mission is to make swimming accessible to the entire community, including school age children, collegiate athletes, adults and Olympic level competitors.
According to Kevin Sheilley, these sports complexes are projected to have a major impact on increased tourism, creating career opportunities, and spurring growth for surrounding businesses that support their needs.
Small Business Entrepreneurship in Ocala is Flourishing
Ocala is making a name as a place with a focus on entrepreneurship by attracting small business owners who are investing in their own future and putting money back into the community.
According to Kevin Sheilley, there are more entrepreneurs in Merion County per capita than any other metro in the nation. This is partially due to existing community members who decide to launch their own businesses, and others who are moving to the region for tax benefits. CEP helps invest back into the community to create new entrepreneurship opportunities for area residents with specific business creation efforts.
Kevin noted, “Ocala Metro CEP Prides itself on being different and where entrepreneurs thrive. We at the CEP run the Small Business Entrepreneurs, adjacent to the Power Plant Business Incubator in downtown Ocala. It’s our hub and we’re at nearly 85% occupancy.
The Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) for the Small Business Entrepreneurship program offers entrepreneurial programming, meeting rooms, technical assistance, capital access initiatives, funding resources and the Power Plant Business Incubator. They provide prospective entrepreneurs the tools, resources and connections through the Ocala Chamber’s 1400 members in order to support them throughout the process from start-up through expansion.
The CEP leads the community’s entrepreneurship efforts through their Business Creation Team, which manages the Power Plant Business Incubator complex and provides entrepreneurship assistance through the following programs; The IMPACT program, FastTrack, the Equine Innovation Center, the Ocala Health Center for Health Services Innovation, the Youth Business Plan Competition, and Assist the Entrepreneurship Career Academy at Forest High School.
Kevin and his team are also devoted to these entrepreneurship efforts by helping to secure sources of funding for small businesses and start-ups by partnering with Microenterprise Loan Funds.
In terms of creating educational opportunities within Marion County, Ocala Metro CEP has partnered with the educational institutions including the public school systems, the College of Central Florida, Marion Tech College and Rasmussen University to create a workforce training pipeline. This program offers certifications in high schools and colleges to train people within the healthcare, logistics & entrepreneurship fields. Opportunities to improve one’s education and employment opportunities abound in Ocala!
Ocala Real Estate Is A Solid Investment
Are you considering Marion County’s centralized location, healthy outdoor lifestyle, competitive property values and ample job market opportunities? Even with the challenges of Covid 19, the Marion County economy has been resilient; growth with regional corporations and new small businesses has not waned. In fact, commercial and residential building permits have increased 130% since 2019. These factors, combined with attractive lending rates and Florida tax breaks means the real estate market is on fire!
The robust economy has resulted in an extremely active real estate market, but it is not too late to find property in Marion County! With a focus on farmland preservation and open space, growth and development is being responsibly managed. Now is an opportune time to invest in Ocala. As industries continue to relocate to our region, Ocala proves to be a solid economic choice.
For more information on the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Development, please visit their website or click on the relocation guide to the left for more information on Marion County!
Considering relocating? To speak with the Team at Ocala Horse Properties to discuss all of your residential or farm real estate needs, give us a call at (352) 615-8891 to chat!
All photos courtesy Ocala Metro CEP