Chamber Of Commerce Attempting To Boost East Gainesville Economy
Since the 1960s, west Gainesville has been thriving economically. But east Gainesville? Not so much.
The average household income in east Gainesville is almost half that of west Gainesville.
Only 10.2 percent of the west Gainesville population lives in poverty compared to the 31.7 percent in east Gainesville.
That disparity is fueling the income inequality that is sullying what is, by most standards, successful economic development of the region: According to a Bloomberg study on income inequality in U.S cities, Gainesville ranks fourth in the nation with 38.1 percent of the population living below the poverty level.
Susan Davenport, the president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said it wants to fix that income disparity by creating more jobs that people who don't have high-level skills or advanced degrees can qualify for.
"When we look at how we are growing the economy, you’ll hear us talking about recruiting companies and building opportunities that have skill sets from GED to Ph.D levels, not just high-tech jobs," Davenport said.
Advanced manufacturing, she said, stands out as a growing industry in Gainesville. New projects have attracted around $13,000 in new capital investment.
Nathalie McCrate, a project manager for the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, said that misconceptions of east Gainesville being some distant place hurts its desirability among real estate developers.
“There is a perception that Eastside is far away, when in truth it is less than two miles away from downtown Gainesville’s urban core and is close to the airport,” McCrate said.
“East Gainesville is a hidden gem, with tremendous economic potential that simply hasn’t been fully tapped into yet.”
East Gainesville has grappled with declines in population and economics since I-75 was developed to the west of Gainesville in the 196os, according to a Gainesville Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization profile.
McCrate said the CRA has programs and incentives for companies to relocate to east Gainesville. One is a project to redevelop the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center managed by Santa Fe College.
“Gainesville’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is gaining state and national recognition,” McCrate said. “City government is working hard to get in front of this anticipated demand and be proactive about making it easier for citizens to do business here.”
Besides working to create opportunities in East Gainesville, the chamber will continue to tout University of Florida as a big advantage for new entrepreneurs in the city, Davenport said.
“Over one third of every research dollar that comes to the state of Florida comes down the street,” she said. “This is a university in Florida that really is a research hub and, because of that, we are so fortunate.”
Aaron Cowley is the co-founder and CEO of Captozyme, a biotechnology startup, and a graduate of the MBA program at UF.
His company is part of the Innovation Hub at UF, the university's business incubator.
“A lot of students are looking for part-time work and are looking to learn,” Cowley said. “There are a lot of really talented minds and trying to keep them here, to build the companies here, is the goal.”
Davenport said Gainesville's path to economic development has been driven by university research and entrepreneurial vision, but growing industries, like advanced manufacturing, software and IT, are providing a much needed change of pace.
"The area has what it takes to be a big success story, and I want to be a part of it," Davenport said.