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September 26, 2015

Named from the Timucua word Ocali, or “big hammock,” the city of Ocala, Florida is Marion County’s largest city, county seat, and cultural heartland. Built on the former site of Fort King prominent in the early 1800s, the city offers a beautiful historical district augmented with all the coveted modern amenities of a relaxing Florida stay.

With the close of 20th century, Greater Ocala experienced one of the highest growth rates in the United States among metro areas with an estimated population of 337,000. From 1975 to 2000, Marion County experienced tremendous growth again, exploding from under 100,000 to over 250,000 people., The enduring population boom is primarily attributed to the region’s wide appeal to snowbirds and active retirees. According to a recent report provided by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Ocala MSA is predicted to rank seventh out of 18 metros in terms of economic growth for the year 2016.

The city’s success stems from its ideal pastoral central Florida location, Interstate 75 connectivity, appealing rolling topography, and mild climate. Greater Ocala is comprised of unique historic districts, booming retirement communities, horse farms, major distributors, and an array of recreational amenities with excellent connectivity to metro demand drivers – all acting as catalysts to continue job and population growth.

Florida retirement communities such as Ocala and the nearby Villages now dominate the fastest growing U.S. metros, whereas in recent years’, metropolitan areas characterized by oil and energy industries led growth projections, according to the report, outlined by Bloomberg. The Ocala area also ranked in the Top 10 for future job growth by Moody Analytics in their recently released Best Cities for Future Job Growth.

“Horse Capital of the World”

The first thoroughbred horse farm in Florida was developed in 1943 off State Highway 200 in Ocala. The abundance of limestone in the area made Ocala a natural pastoral scene for raising strong horses, but it went unrecognized until 1955 when Needes, an Ocala raised thoroughbred won the state, its first Kentucky Derby. The equine industry has proven to be Ocala’s claim to fame, with more than 70,000 acres of thoroughbred breeding and training farms, garnering the nickname “Horse Capital of the World.” It is said that, “Needles put the Florida Thoroughbred industry on the map and sold more land than all the real estate agents in Marion County combined”, Bonnie Heath Farms.

Today, over 100 horse breeds are represented in the county’s stables, with competitions between champion polo, hunter-jumper, dressage, and vaulting horses driving the one-of-a-kind tourist industry and world-class thoroughbred programs. Breeding, training, and supporting horses have made for a $2.62 billion per year impact to go along with 19,000 full and part-time jobs.

Agricultural hub

Agriculture has also long been an important aspect of Marion County’s success since its inception in the 19th century. Today agriculture continues to thrive, producing $1.2 billion in revenues. Over 3,500 farms, occupying 377,000 acres dot the local countryside.

Cattle and dairy products, poultry, vegetables, tobacco, corn, and timber produce significant revenues for the county. Today the area’s economy is more diversified with strong ties between the University of Florida and the City of Gainesville. The University of Florida and Shands HealthCare are the leading employers in Gainesville, providing jobs for many local residents as well as residents of surrounding counties.

The agricultural school at the University of Florida was recently named by U.S. News as the 10th best agricultural school in the world. The Plant Science Research and Education Unit studies crops such as varieties of beans, corn, peanuts, and tomatoes. This research has resulted in increased productivity and knowledge for farmers all over the state as well as novel varieties of frost, pest, and disease resistant strains of crops.

Peanuts have always been a successful crop for Marion County farmers Recently Marion County was recognized as the 5th highest Florida producer of peanuts, with over 9, 300 acres. Well adapted to the Central Florida’s karst topography and slightly acidic soils, peanuts prosper when grown in well drained sands with deep sandy loam horizons.

Cattle, cattle and more cattle

Marion County is well known nationally for its sizable cattle population. Florida’s climate, together with its abundant rainfall, allows for nearly year-round grazing. The Ocala-area produces approximately 21,000 calves annually which are then shipped across the country, mainly to Texas and Oklahoma. Recent investment in the region’s land has been in the hundreds of millions of dollars, causing many in the cattle industry to take stock.

There are over 300 hay farms in the county alone. Each of these farms produces hay that is used to feed cattle, horses, and a variety of other local and regional livestock. With the ever-growing equine and cattle industries, the 32,000 acres in production locally will continue to increase.

Marion County is one of only four major thoroughbred centers in the world that is home to some 600 thoroughbred farms and has produced 45 national champions, six Kentucky Derby winners, and 20 Breeders’ Cup champions.

Florida ranks 12th nationally in beef cattle production, with about 908,000 cows. Last year, 860,000 calves were born in the state — and nearly all were shipped to the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Drought in the Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas has prompted herd expansion efforts in Florida. The 2012 Census of Agriculture show a 20,000- to 60,000-head jump in Florida cattle numbers when the results were released in early 2014.

JLL is currently marketing three development sites for sale in Marion County:

• Sunny Oaks Commerce Center
Golden Oaks
• Ocala Lake Estates

For more information:

Bill McGee lll & Charles Crapse

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