North Central Florida: Low Cost, High Opportunity

Robust infrastructure and talented workforce support this budding industrial location.

By BF Staff
From the May/June 2022 Issue

As both South and Central Florida become more populated, these areas have fewer sites and low-cost opportunities available. It is increasingly more competitive to find properties in prime locations in these regions. With access to multiple seaports along Florida’s “First Coast,” and railways crisscrossing the region, North Central Florida offers attractive prospects for new and expanding businesses. This budding industrial area straddles the intersection of three major interstates: I-75, I-10, and I-95, which creates excellent transportation options throughout the region.

A lesser-known fact about the rural counties of north Florida is the excellent infrastructure. With access to four municipal airports and the nearby Jacksonville International Airport, the aviation industry is poised to support the importing and exporting needs of local businesses. Lake City Gateway Airport is home to one of aviation product and service provider HAECO’s largest Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facilities in the southeastern U.S. North Florida provides tremendous airspace with ease of access.

North Central Florida
(Photo: Enterprise Florida)

Railways intersect the region’s counties making the transportation of materials easier than ever. With Norfolk Southern Railway, Florida Gulf-Atlantic Railroad, and support from CSX, the counties of North Central Florida reap the benefits of available and efficient transportation. North Central Florida is ideally positioned. Seaport access, railway transportation, interstate travel, and uncluttered airspace are the backbone of industries here.

Because of the rural nature of the counties in the region, businesses can find a variety of sites with ample acreage. Not only are there commercial sites available in the quaint towns scattered across the region, but there are also large parcels of undeveloped land conveniently located near major interstates such as I-10 and I-95. North Florida offers a large number of available sites with frontage on interstates, or with interstate access.

Not to be overlooked is the tremendously talented workforce sourced both locally and from the major cities of Tallahassee, Gainesville, Ocala, and Jacksonville. All counties in the region are connected to major Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Both Baker and Putnam counties have a workforce pulled from beyond their borders due to proximity to Jacksonville while Columbia and Bradford counties are closely connected to the Gainesville area. Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, and Levy counties attract employees from the Ocala MSA.

The region’s education is supported by three flagship universities: Florida A&M University, Florida State University, and the University of Florida. The northeast end of the region has access to the University of North Florida. Backing a skilled workforce are high-quality technical and vocational colleges that provide the educational foundation and certifications for success. Just to name a few of the state colleges and technical schools: Big Bend Technical College, North Florida State College, College of Central Florida, RIVEROAK Technical College, Florida Gateway State College—strategically located throughout the 14-county region.

North Central Florida
Lake City Gateway Airport is one of four municipal airports supporting transport in and out of North Central Florida. (Photo: Enterprise Florida)

The current workforce of North Central Florida totals 155,894, and of those 150,500 are employed. Jacksonville offers an available MSA of 813,895 workers; Gainesville supplies 148,656; and Tallahassee provides 198,782. Of all private sector jobs across the region, 12.3% are manufacturing-focused, which is higher than the average for Florida. Manufacturing is one of the key industries of North Florida alongside lumber, logistics, and distribution. The workforce for trade including retail is 12.3% while wholesale trade is 8.5% within the region’s 14 counties. Between the years 2012 and 2020, the area experienced a growth of 24.7%—with the aim to increase that statistic recruiting new businesses and assisting with existing businesses expanding throughout the region.

Known for its distribution centers, North Central Florida makes importing and exporting painless. High powered utilities service the region’s businesses. With great support from rural electrical cooperatives, the area provides access to competitive rates. The region is committed to renewable energy to preserve its natural beauty, protecting what makes rural Florida unique. Served by top utilities in the nation, such as Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light, the region provides sustainable solutions for power.

Recent successes in North Central Florida include: COMARCO food processing and distributor, Werner Trucking distribution, Target Distribution Center, U.S. Cold Storage, Georgia-Pacific (3 locations), Binderholz-International Sawmill, Cross City Lumber, and Super Puffs (snack foods). These companies join the long list of those that have chosen North Florida as their forever home.