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Alachua County Adopts Entrepreneurial Spirit To Bring In More Businesses

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Florida job seekers have some of the best opportunities in the country.

According to reports from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida has continued its hiring streak for the sixth consecutive month with a job growth rate of 3.7 percent  in August – the second highest rate in the nation overall.

Florida’s private sector jobs have grown for 46 consecutive months, and its annual job growth rate has exceeded the nation’s since April 2012. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the top four  industries for job creation in Florida this year have been in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; trade, transportation and utilities; and professional and business services.
According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the top four industries for job creation in Florida this year have been in leisure and hospitality; education and health services; trade, transportation and utilities; and professional and business services. Photo courtesy of the Department of Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Labor Market Statistics

Alachua County, with an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, ranks ninth in Florida, giving local job seekers more opportunities.

The county has a long history of low unemployment rates and steady job growth rates, said Steve Lachnicht, director of growth management for Alachua County.

The steady rates are partly because of the University of Florida and UF Health Shands Hospital. Being very stable businesses, both provide services people will use and need no matter the economic conditions, Lachnicht said.

“We have a somewhat unique economy,” Lachnicht said.

However, the county hopes to attract more business to the county overall.

“One of the goals is more diversification in the kinds of business we attract,” Lachnicht said.

Nonprofit organization Gainesville Area Innovation Network, or GAIN, has the same mission to help business thrive in Alachua County. With more than 3,000 members, it is based primarily in Gainesville but has outreach in  other regions throughout the state.

Lee May, executive director of GAIN, said it focuses on providing mentoring and networking for those who want to become self-employed or become involved in a start-up company.

“Our mission is, quite frankly, to inspire, connect and educate the entrepreneurs who want to change the world,” May said.

Entrepreneurs everywhere face similar obstacles in terms of funding and know-how, and GAIN aims to connect Alachua County’s entrepreneurs with others who have already overcome those challenges.

“This community is so darn dynamic and collaborative,” May said.

May also serves on the board of Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, which was created by  Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy. Regulations and permits can prove difficult for new businesses to navigate, so the committee is tasked with making recommendations to improve the logistics of starting a business.

Software company Optym is a local start-up that has found success within Gainesville. Started by a University of Florida professor in 2000, the company has four offices and 170 employees overall. Approximately 100 of those employees were hired in the last three years.

“It’s really just since 2012 that we’ve had such explosive growth,” said Janice Kaplan, senior marketing writer at Optym.

Two and a half years ago, the Gainesville offices had about 30 people, but that number has about doubled since thenNow, more than 70 employees work at the Gainesville offices.

In February, the company moved to a new building that, when complete, will accommodate about 200 full-time employees. Gov. Rick Scott attended the grand opening and presented president & CEO Ravindra K. Ahuja with the Business Ambassador Award for creating quality jobs in Florida.

While Optym entertained the idea of moving offices out of town, it ultimately decided to stay in Gainesville.

“We’ve got such a great tech community here,” Kaplan said.

Alachua County’s business climate has also attracted existing companies looking to open new offices.

Mobile engagement provider Mobiquity  was established in Boston about four years ago. It has 12 offices in four countries and employs about 500 people in total. In 2013, it opened offices in Gainesville and was honored that year as the Best New Business by the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.

“We were encouraged by the city’s approach to developing jobs and helping new businesses and the state’s approach to it too,” said Executive Vice President Andy Norman.

Norman said the company had just six employees in Gainesville when it launched but already anticipated having a total of 260 in the Gainesville office within three years. The office currently has about 100 employees and is on track to meet the anticipated hiring numbers.

Mobiquity chose Gainesville because it boasted lower costs than some of the other more metropolitan areas in the country and still allowed the company to hire the kind of talent it needed, Norman said.

If the company continues to grow at the rate it has enjoyed, Norman said, the Gainesville offices will continue to expand accordingly.

“We love Gainesville, and we like what we’re doing there,” he said.

About Kristina Ramer

Kristina is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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