Ralph Conti: Gainesville is on an impressive economic path

This is a recent Op-Ed in The Gainesville Sun, regarding the current growth of the Gainesville, Florida community. Great things are happening here as a result of our public and private sector efforts. Celebration Pointe is one of several major projects leading the way.

There are many positive terms that can be used to describe the Gainesville area these days and justifiably so, given the consistent upward economic path and the new development renaissance in progress. The area is driven by a strong, knowledge-based economy, which is supported by a highly educated talent pool with an entrepreneurial spirit and loyalty to the area.

The market has a steadily growing private sector combined with a highly collaborative public/private sector with an eye on innovation. It all revolves around research, technology, health care, retail and more.

Additionally, this is an area where people want to live and raise families, so it’s not surprising that the region’s economy and job market are healthy and on the rise. Gainesville has surely captured the attention of many in U.S., and the global investment community is also paying close attention to what is happening. We have seen, firsthand, the impact that this level of investment is having in the region.

The list of national accolades that Gainesville has received in 2017 is impressive: second-fastest growing city in the nation (NerdWallet.com), top 100 places to live (Livability.com), and one of the best college towns in America (Wallethub.com), among others. Florida has been ranked a top state for innovation (Fast Company) and a top state for its talent pipeline (U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

When you take a closer look at many of the elements driving growth and factor in the broader regional impacts, the outlook for 2018 is strong.

The region’s unemployment rate remains well below state and national figures. A healthy 21 percent of residents in the greater Gainesville metropolitan area have graduate-level degrees, twice that of Florida residents as a whole, according to a regional overview recently compiled by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Industries such as health care, financial services, manufacturing, research/technology, the sciences and the public sector are key to driving employment. Gainesville offers some of the best education opportunities in the state, including five high schools on the Washington Post’s index of the best high schools in the nation.

Two of Florida’s top institutions for higher education play a large role in attracting key industries and those who work in them. The University of Florida, the area’s top employer, is one of the most significant cogs in this regional wheel. It was recently ranked among the top public universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and other publications.

UF draws top students from all over the world and produces a steady crop of highly educated professionals. It also leads nationally in research, science, technology, health care and more, with many graduates staying in the region to join existing companies or to start new ones.

The Innovation Hub at the University of Florida is an elite program that fosters startup growth, with an emphasis on technology and special programs for women innovators. It is no surprise that Liveability.com named Gainesville 15th out of the 50 best U.S. cities for entrepreneurs. Santa Fe College, also a large regional employer, is first in Florida for its graduation rate among public colleges, and in the top 10 nationally.

A great example of entrepreneurism and loyalty to the community is Svein Dyrkolbotn, a UF graduate, former Gator basketball player and owner of Viking Companies, which has been developing sustainablecommunities in Gainesville for some time. He is the visionary behind the 160-acre Celebration Pointe mixed-use development fronting Interstate 75 at Archer Road. This project, on which I am a partner, exemplifies how the area’s consistently sound fundamentals and growth, along with global investment, add to the overall economic gain in Gainesville and the surrounding region.

The city of Gainesville’s economic development and innovation team continues to encourage progressive and smart development. The surrounding county has put forth initiatives to enhance walkability and more compact communities, thereby making the region more attractive. Gainesville has been named one of America’s greenest cities and is a leader in per capita solar power output.

With annual job growth projected to average nearly 3 percent over the next 10 years, a strong knowledge-based workforce, and so many other economic and aesthetic factors in the region’s favor, it’s not so difficult to reason that 2018 will be another stellar year for the area.

Ralph Conti is the founder and managing principal of Racon Real Estate LLC, and is a partner in Gainesville’s more than 1-million-square-foot Celebration Pointe development comprised of retail, dining, entertainment, hospitality, residential and Class A office space.