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Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Economic Development Meets Alachua County Economic Development

Dave Ramsey of Gainesville.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday afternoon, an important face of Alachua County's Economic Development team came to Columbia County to meet with Columbia County's Economic Development Advisory Board. David Ramsey, Vice President of Economic Development for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, traveled from Gainesville to be greeted by a Columbia County Board that couldn't put together a quorum for this important meeting.

MIA were Economic Development Advisory Board members Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson and former County Commission Candidate and Lakeshore Hospital Authority Board Member, Marc Vann. No announcement was made regarding their whereabouts. It was announced that Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) member and Gateway College President, Chuck Hall, was in rehabilitation and could not make it. Part of the Columbia County EDAB also serves as the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority (IDA). The absent Marc Vann represents the IDA.

Downtown Gainesville, FL

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce is the economic development engine for the City of Gainesville and Alachua County, of which one or the other is on somebody's list as one of the 10 best places to live in America; one of the greenest cities in America; a community projected to have the highest percentage of growth of creative class jobs in America; Gainesville public schools earned the highest SAT scores in Florida; the home to nationally accredited museums and award-winning performing arts programs; and their Chamber of Commerce is ranked in the top one percent nationwide.

The Highlight of the Presentation – MindTree

Downtown Greenville, SC.

Gainesville/Alachua County was one of the finalists in the competition to attract the expansion of this $400 million dollar company to Florida. At the conclusion of the competition, Gainesville was chosen for the home of its U.S. Development Center, which, according to MindTree, is anticipated to create a minimum of 400 jobs averaging $80,000 a year.

The contenders were Greenville, SC and Birmingham, Alabama.

Greenville, like Gainesville, is an upscale, educated, progressive, high quality of life community with a large cache of universities to choose from. It has a vibrant downtown and book stores.

Downtown Birmingham, AL

Birmingham is a major southern metropolis, home of or in easy reach of Alabama's top universities and is experiencing a major resurgence after many years of decline. Birmingham was at the forefront of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Mr. Ramsey explained that Alabama and South Carolina are "very, very aggressive" when it comes to economic development. He added that Florida can and does compete and Florida "doesn't necessarily have to incentivize as much."

The Observer asked, "Why did you beat out Greenville, which is upscale and educated like Gainesville/Alachua – what was the key?"

Mr. Ramsey cut in, "Why did we beat out Greenville? Because the company saw more long term benefit. They knew the incentive would run out, but they wanted to be in a state that was positioned well and they wanted to be next to a talent pipeline, but they could have gotten that talent from South Carolina."

Downtown Lake City during a recent walking tour. Is it too far behind to ever catch up?

The Observer asked Mr. Ramsey about the value of the economic incentives which were given to MindTree.

Mr. Ramsey mentioned various state and local economic incentive programs and said that MindTree's number one driver was "finding talent."

Mr. Ramsey wasn't able to monetize the final cumulative dollar value of the incentives. The Gainesville Sun reported that $120,000 each is coming from the city and the county. The state is coming up with the rest, which is about $1.2 million.

Ultimately, including the team effort of Florida through Governor Scott and Grey Swoope (more about Grey Swoope here and here), Florida's Secretary of Commerce, and the team effort of the economic development folks from Gainesville/Alachua, reports show that it was the University of Florida and its easy access that swung the deal to Gainesville and Florida.


The MindTree story speaks volumes about the ingredients needed to bring economic development to an area.

That nobody, excluding the Economic Development Director Quillen, on the EDAB seemed knowledgeable of the ingredients of the MindTree – Gainesville/Alachua success story spoke volumes.

A look at the downtowns of the competitors for MindTree, Birmingham and Greenville, and the ultimate winner, Gainesville and a look at the downtown of Lake City, which has been deteriorating for decades can't be sugar coated.

Good ole boy cronyism, failing schools, a rundown central business district, haphazard zoning, and a failure to recognize and respect its most valuable asset, its citizens, have been the earmarks and downfall of Columbia County for generations, which has had major development driving down the highway to other less ideally located communities for a better quality of life and business climate.

Time will tell if Columbia County/Lake City is too far behind the eight ball to ever catch up. 

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(see letter to the editor re: Greenville SC)