2012 in business: Innovation economy thrives locally
Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.
From the arrival of Mindtree to Gainesville to Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta's acquisition of Alachua-based Pasteuria Bioscience, the local "innovation economy" had a banner year in 2012, with tech companies securing millions of dollars in private investments for expansion.
Meantime, the broader local economy showed signs of improvement in housing, employment and interest from national retailers and restaurants.
Here's a look back at 2012 in the area of business in Gainesville:
-- India-based Mindtree Limited announced in March that it chose Gainesville for its first U.S. development center with plans to create 400 jobs over five years, prompting a visit from Gov. Rick Scott. After moving into the old Ayers Medical building, the software company was ahead of hiring projections in November with about 50 employees.
-- The growing quantity and quality of startup companies led to a record year in financial deals for local tech companies. Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta acquired Alachua-based Pasteuria Bioscience in a deal worth up to $113 million, while other companies secured venture capital funding, including: Alachua-based Applied Genetic Technologies Corp.,$37.5 million; Alachua-based AxoGen, $21 million; Trendy Entertainment, $18.1 million; Prioria Robotics, $5.5 million; RegisterPatient.com, $4.1 million.
Plus, the University of Florida Innovation Hub reported that in its first 10 months tenant companies secured $7.2 million in private funding and created 85 jobs.
-- The housing market gained momentum throughout the year, with sales up 12 percent for the first 11 months compared to 2011, while the median sales price showed signs of reaching bottom with a 3 percent drop to $155,000 over the same period compared to double-digit decreases following the housing crash.
-- The unemployment rate started the year at 7.4 percent and dropped to a three-year low in October at 6.2 percent before ticking up to 6.4 percent in November. The lower rate was more the result of a shrinking labor force than job growth.
-- In addition to Mindtree, other major new businesses opened locally in 2012. Silver Airways moved its maintenance facility from Fort Lauderdale to Gainesville Regional Airport and started offering flights to other Florida cities and Atlanta in April.
Trader Joe's opened its neighborhood grocery concept in Butler Plaza with 600 customers coming through during the first hour on Dec. 12. Ulta Beauty opened a big box beauty supply and salon in the Oaks Square Shopping Center Oct. 12. A 13,000-square-foot CVS opened in May at the corner of Northwest 43rd Street and 23rd Avenue.
-- 2012 also saw the closure of several major employers and longtime businesses. Ball Corp. announced in August it would close its beverage can lid plant around the end of the year, affecting 127 employees, since demand is down for standard 12-ounce cans.
The next month, Heat Pipe Technology announced that it was moving to Tampa, taking 15 of about 35 employees with it.
Piccadilly Cafeteria, formerly Morrison's Cafeteria, closed as part of bankruptcy proceedings Oct. 7 after serving generations of diners. Food Lion closed 25 Florida stores, including those in Gainesville and Alachua. Save-A-Lot opened in the Gainesville location Dec. 13. Jay's Bridal shop closed after 77 years.
-- The U.S. Postal Service announced that the Gainesville distribution center on Southwest 34th Street would be among 264 nationwide to close. Outgoing mail processing moved to Jacksonville, while the transfer of other functions is not scheduled to begin until February 2013.
-- Large developments, including several stalled for years, prepared to move forward in 2012, including developers behind Springhills and Celebration Pointe. Coconut Grove-based Swerdlow Group has proposed to take over University Corners at Northwest 13th Street and University Avenue with hopes of starting construction in 2013.
The city of Alachua approved a 280-acre corporate park adjacent to Progress Corporate Park to accommodate companies needing large buildings. Plum Creek completed the first phase and convened the second phase of task force meetings to come up with a master plan for its lands, including 17,000 acres east of Newnan's Lake.
-- Brent Christensen left as president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in June to lead the Mississippi Development Authority. He was replaced in August by Tim Giuliani, who was a vice president of the Florida chamber and previously served as director of membership for the Gainesville chamber.
-- Sailboat builder Hunter Marine of Alachua was purchased by Marlow Acquisitions, a company owned by a Palmetto yacht builder, as part of bankruptcy proceedings for parent company Morgan Industries.
-- GWWO, a Baltimore architectural firm, was selected to design the Cade Museum of Creativity + Innovation to be built in Depot Park for a 2015 opening.
The Cade Museum Foundation's third annual $50,000 prize went to BioAcousTech of Tampa for its device to detect sounds inside a patient's body to diagnose conditions such as heart problems.
-- Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach completed its acquisition of The Gainesville Sun and 15 other regional newspapers from The New York Times Co. for $143 million on Jan. 6.
-- FloridaWorks, the regional workforce board for Alachua and Bradford counties, received a $12 million grant from the Department of Labor to duplicate its entrepreneurship training program in seven other regions.