State initiative to help bolster Newberry's appeal to companies
Published: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:35 p.m.
The city of Newberry has been developing a reputation for sports tourism in recent years, but it will craft a broader economic development strategy in the coming months with help from the state.
Newberry was chosen, along with three other communities, to be part of the pilot program for a new state initiative focused on fostering economic development in rural areas called the Competitive Florida Partnership. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will help the city establish a strategic plan for economic development tailored to its interests and strengths as well as a community asset inventory.
“We’re the guinea pigs,” said Bryan Thomas, director of planning and economic development for Newberry.
The city hopes to use this as a first step toward future economic growth, and getting the state DEO’s help in developing a strategy for achieving that is “huge,” he said.
The asset inventory will catalog details about Newberry that a business considering moving there might want to know, including the size of the workforce it could draw from the area, what buildings are available for use as office space, or, if a company wants to build its own facility, what options it has on that front.
Instead of having to research these issues whenever an interested business inquires about them, the city will be able to present this inventory right away. That saves time, and time is money in business, Thomas said. It could help Newberry place higher on a company’s list of possibilities.
Sports tourism will be a big part of Newberry’s forthcoming strategic plan since the city has been moving in that direction over the past several years with the development of Nations Park, a 16-field baseball complex, and other efforts, but the city also will look at how it can diversify, Thomas said.
Newberry hopes to put itself in a position to attract at least 1-2 percent of the businesses coming out of Innovation Square in Gainesville to settle there, city officials say.
The state wants Newberry to complete the strategic plan and asset inventory by the end of June, he said, and the state also will do a case study of the Competitive Florida process to see what it can improve for future participants.
To kick things off, the city will host a launch event soon to generate interest in the community. It also is formalizing its economic development steering committee, which reports to the City Commission but has been a loose coalition of business leaders and other local stakeholders until now. Newberry is looking to add new members so the committee can provide more broad-based community input to city government.
Through the Competitive Florida Partnership, the DEO will work one on one with Newberry and the other communities — the cities of Port St. Joe and White Springs, as well as Desoto County — to map their strengths and target opportunities for economic development, Jessica Sims, press secretary for the DEO, wrote in an email to The Sun. “Newberry is a forward-thinking community with leaders who work closely together to pursue creative economic opportunities that fit within the community’s character.”
The state wants to help Newberry and its fellow participants find resources and strategies that will support their respective visions, Sims said.
Mayor Bill Conrad said it means a lot that the state picked Newberry to be part of its pilot program.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” he said. And not just for Newberry.
When sizable businesses move in, they employ workers who live in either the city or surrounding towns and who shop and dine in the area.
“I think all of us benefit when businesses come,” he said. “The growth in Gainesville and Alachua has certainly benefited us.”