Newberry, White Springs get economic boost

Published: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 7:12 p.m.

The city of Newberry's Economic Development Committee joined forces with Alachua County's other outlying communities about a year ago out of concerns that they were being left behind by the new business activity in Gainesville.

At about the same time, the Council for Economic Outreach, the economic development arm of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, was starting to take a more regional view of its efforts and by the second half of 2013 was meeting with officials from the smaller towns about combining efforts.

Now Newberry has the weight of the state Department of Economic Opportunity behind it after being selected as one of four areas for the Competitive Florida Partnership pilot program to help rural communities with their job growth efforts.

The DEO also selected White Springs, Port St. Joe and Desoto County for the pilot program.

The agency will help the communities identify strengths to promote to business prospects and come up with tailored economic development plans. The agency can also provide grants to deal with any weaknesses and coordinate with other state agencies.

The idea behind the pilot program is to create a model that can be duplicated in other rural communities.

Newberry's Economic Development Committee has been working with the town's Main Street program, the local Chamber of Commerce, residents and Alachua County's economic development director to come up with projects and had the blessing of the City Commission to apply for the pilot program.

Susan Davenport, vice president of economic development for the Gainesville Chamber and Council for Economic Outreach, said that vision and collaboration helped Newberry's application.

She said the town has already had several big economic wins involving sports tourism that it can build on, such as the Easton-Newberry Sports Complex and Nations Park.

Bryan Thomas, the city's new planning director, said the community wants to diversify its economy. Thomas said one strategy will be to try to capture companies that grow out of the University of Florida's technology and biotech incubators.

"We understand that's going to be a pretty small percentage of businesses that come out of there, but that small percentage could be very significant, especially for a community the size of Newberry," he said.

The effort comes as the Gainesville Chamber and CEO is preparing to launch an update of its Innovation Gainesville economic development plan, increasingly called just iG as the business organization moves to a more regional approach in cooperation with the small towns.

"We're coordinating our prospect activity, outreach, messaging and everything iG is doing," Davenport said. "They're trying to do the same so we get that really strong regional collaboration in driving the new economic development strategy and message around the country, and around the world, really."

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