For one local business owner, the decision to move to Newberry was easy.
“It just felt like home,” said Mike Layman, owner of the Gourmet Rodent, one of Newberry’s largest employers.
Layman and his wife, who both grew up in South Florida, bought the reptile-breeding facility in 2014. The couple moved to Newberry in 2011 after looking at houses in and around Gainesville and were told they could get more for their money in Newberry.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said.
In the past few years, 40 new businesses have moved to Newberry. Over 2,000 jobs have been created and several new businesses are currently close to moving to the city, said Mayor Bill Conrad.
Twenty years ago, the city was 1.5 square miles and had a population of 1,500, Conrad said. Now, the 55-square-mile city, located 18 miles west of Gainesville, has a population of more than 5,000.
Much of the geographic growth came from annexing farmland.
Land was annexed because of the desire to change agricultural land to residential, he said. Newberry is about the same size as Gainesville geographically, and it is bigger than Ocala and Leesburg.
“We’re still kind of reeling from it [the growth],” Conrad said.
Stoney Smith, general manager at Hudson Food Stores, was a part of that growth.
Smith opened a Marathon service station and a Dairy Queen in the city about a year ago after seeing a need for these services in the area.
As growth continues, Mayor Bill Conrad said he wants to see the city hold onto the agricultural base and family values the community is known for.
“I don’t think we’re going to be a bedroom community of Gainesville much longer,” said Jordan Marlowe, teacher at Newberry High School and Newberry city commissioner.
A bedroom community describes a city where residents live but commute to work in other cities.
Marlowe, a native of Newberry, said while the city will continue to be a reflection of Gainesville, it has become more diverse over the years.
The growth of jobs in Alachua and Gainesville has caused Newberry’s population to grow, Mayor Bill Conrad said. If Newberry residents commute to other areas to work, those cities will reap all the benefits because where people work is where revenue is generated, he said.
“We want people to be attracted here because they have a job here,” Conrad said.
As for Layman, owner of the Gourmet Rodent, he likes living close to his business. He said about half of his staff lives within a few blocks of the facility, and they walk to work every day.
“It made sense for us to live out here cause we work out here,” he said.
Newberry had everything Layman and his wife were looking for: a good neighborhood and the support of his business from the city commission and citizens, he said.
“My business and my family have found a home here, and I don’t see either of them leaving the city of Newberry in the foreseeable future,” Layman said.