Old-new Gainesville

Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:40 a.m.
The City of Gainesville's annual "citizen's report" arrived in the mail this week. Its cover was an artist's rendering of the Seagal Building, our 1920s-era "skyscraper."
"New buildings will soon join the Seagle Building and the city's skyline as we continue on a path to renaissance," the report assures.
The report is replete with words like "renaissance," "transformation," and "rebirth." And it's difficult to not get caught up in that sense of rebirth given all of the "new buildings" that are going up, or still in the planning stage, in the downtown-University of Florida area.
Still, that the annual report is emblazoned with an old Gainesville image may be a bit more symbolic than its designers imagined. This week also brought a report to Gainesville from David Rusk, a Washington-based urban policy consultant, that had some good news and bad news.
The good news: Job growth in Gainesville-Alachua County (38 percent) has outpaced the national average (24 percent) over the past 15 years. The bad news, the growth in per capita income in Gainesville has lagged behind the national average during that same period.
"For the Gainesville region to outpace the national average in rate of job creation but fall somewhat behind the national average in the growth of per capital personal income points to much of the job creation having occurred in low wage retail and service industry jobs," Rusk wrote. "There is substantial underemployment in the region."
What makes that especially perplexing is that, because of the University of Florida, Gainesville ranks 14th in the nation in terms of adult workers who possess a bachelor's degree or higher. Which means there are potentially a lot of underemployed people here.
"This certainly suggests that the Gainesville region could harvest economic benefits of its rich intellectual resources much more effectively in its economic development incentives," Rusk said.
In other words, for all its intellectual resources, Gainesville has yet to reach the next level when it comes to growing the sort of economy that a great university community ought to have.
It is true that there are a lot of new buildings going up. But for the most part, they are residential, or, at best, mix-use complexes that will certainly help make central Gainesville a more desirable place to live - always assuming that quality, good-paying jobs will follow.
We remain optimistic on that score. Economic development efforts haven't yet reached that critical mass necessary to start filling new buildings with job-growing enterprises. But there are signs that the community is moving in the right direction.
Gainesville's newly designated "innovation zone" in and around UF is laying the groundwork to accommodate tech-transfer enterprises that want to take advantage of UF research and development. Alachua County will turn the old fairgrounds into an airport-adjacent industrial and commercial activity center. The jointly funded GTEC center, in east Gainesville, is an incubator for entrepreneurship. And UF intends to strengthen its own presence in east Gainesville as well.
Down the road, Gainesville hopes to turn a collection of GRU workshops and parking lots just off Depot Avenue into a technology transfer "campus" to host UF-related business enterprises.
And perhaps most encouraging of all is the recent ground-breaking of UF's $388 million Shands Cancer Hospital. Its development will create 1,000 new jobs and will enhance the ability of the Shands complex to attract considerable private sector health care investment to the edges of campus.
Much of that remains speculative. But if the city, county, UF, Santa Fe Community College, school system, local business community and other important partners continue to work together in common cause, Gainesville may yet take full advantage of its "intellectual resources" and grow into the great university community it aspires to be.

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