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Newberry Exploring Possibility Of Ag-Focused Research Park

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Big changes on big business could be coming soon to the small, relaxed town of Newberry in southwest Alachua County.

Officials are exploring the possibility of an agri-tech research park, and they say it would bring high-profile jobs to the community.

Such parks are environments designed to have shared knowledge among university, government and private research bodies.

Newberry’s would be multiple buildings, each with tenants researching products and best practices specifically on agriculture. Though nothing is set in stone in terms of location, size and tenants, Newberry city Commissioner Jason McGehee said there has been some outside enthusiasm.

“It seems like there is a big interest in IFAS moving out here to Newberry,” McGehee said of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, which also does research related to agriculture.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe said that, ideally, tenants of the park would eventually develop new startup companies of their own.

The city of Alachua has a similar park of its own, Progress Park, which came about in the mid-’80s and focuses primarily on bioscience companies.

“The synergy that goes on between companies of like minds is valuable. … They kind of feed off each other,” said Sandy Burgess, owner’s association manager of Progress Park.

Burgess said that the employees like being in a community of like-minded entities and being able to share resources with one another, such as equipment and labs.

The steps to bringing Newberry’s park to fruition were aided when the city was awarded an $11,000 grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The $11,000 will be used to hire a consulting firm to determine how exactly the research park would be installed, Marlowe said, adding that the specific firm hasn’t yet been decided.

“What we’re hoping to do is use that money to identify what kinds of research industries would use Newberry as a focal point,” the mayor said.

With most of its residents working outside the city limits, Newberry isn’t a town known for the type high-profile jobs the park might bring.

“We don’t mind being a bedroom community,” Marlowe said. “We like it quiet. But we also want to make sure we have good, high-paying jobs for our youths that want to stay here.”

Commissioner McGehee said he knows that some residents might not like the idea of a research park coming to Newberry.

Resident Joey Fowler expressed mixed feelings about the proposal.

“It depends on the financial concern of what this project would cost,” Fowler said.

On whether he thinks a research park would bring more people to work in Newberry, Fowler noted his concern about it being able to compete with Gainesville.

“The infrastructure in Gainesville is just so much bigger and it draws so many people,” Fowler said.

Some other considerations need to go into deciding whether to build a research park, said Mark Long, who since 2015 has served as director of the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator in the city of Alachua. They include whether the local economy is suited for park’s targeted field.

“Some of the concerns in particular for research parks are the potential for the research park to change the local economy in terms of job focus,” said Long, who has helped build several research parks all over the world.

“If a research park goes too far in one direction, such as a biotech, your particular area of the country or city may not be truly bio-tech focused.”

Though nothing is set in stone, but Newberry is taking the necessary steps to make its research park a reality, City Manager Mike New said. For example, the city has developed an infrastructure plan and a concept plan, and it has talked with property owners about the concept.

“We’ve got a lot of good momentum,” New said.

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