Florida - a great spot for jobs-lands five cities
in this year’s top 10, including our No. 1, Gainesville.
knows that Florida can be hot. But not this hot! This
year, in our ninth annual exclusive ranking of the 300
largest U.S. metropolitan areas, five Florida cities today,
including No. 1 Gainesville (up from No. 7 in 1994), home to
the University of Florida. The prime reason: According to
our data, no other part of the country has had such strong
recent employment growth, sizzling-yet still
affordable-housing values and dazzling prospects for job
creation. Take Gainesville, a small city (metro area pop.
186,300) in north central Florida. Its unemployment rate is
a microscope 2.8% (the national average, according to
Arizona State University’s Economic Outlook Center. "In the
past three years, Florida’s economy has come roaring out of
the gate, doing much better than the nation as a whole,"
says Atlanta Federal reserve economist Andrew Krikelas.
The Sunshine State also offers a magnetic lure for tax-weary
workers. It’s one of only nine states with no tax on earned
income. So toast the Florida Five with a raised glass of
Gatorade - that popular thirst quencher invented at the
University of Florida. All but Gainesville is breaking into
our top 10 for the first time since we started our annual
ranking in 1987. The other honorees: No. 3 Jacksonville
(up from 67 last year); No. 5, Ocala (78); No. 6
Fort Lauderdale (56); and No. 10, Naples (28).
Also, Gainesville becomes only our second southern winner,
after 1994’s No. 1 Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C.
to learn more about No. 1, Gainesville? You can start by
floating down that grand old Suwannee River as it meanders
for 250 miles from Georgia to central Florida. Seventy miles
south of the Georgia border, nearly smack-dab between the
Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, you’ll find booming
Gainesville. The metro area, which encompasses all of
Alachua County, includes a handful of picturesque pinpoint
communities like Cross Creek, High Springs and Micanopy,
where Michael J. Fox filmed his 1991 hit movie Doc
Hollywood. In all, 65% of the county’s 965 square miles is
rolling greenery, braceleted by a crystalline web of lakes,
creeks and springs.
At the center is job-rich Gainesville,
one of the few places in the U.S. where you can work in
town, live in the wilderness and have a maximum 30-minute
commute. You won’t pay much for the privilege either. Locals
love the area restaurants’ all-you-can-eat Sunday buffets of
ham, turkey and fried chicken priced at $5.50 or so. Housing
is quite affordable too. A typical three-bedroom cost
$82,000 according to Century 21. "You can purchase lakefront
properties out of the hurricane path for a fraction of the
price you would pay for a beach front house in South
Florida," say Joey Herres, Century 21’s north Florida
and gown are inextricably entwined here. The university is
the city’s economic taproot, employing more than 15,500
people, including 4,100 at the 576-bed Shands Teaching
Hospital, a national leader in orthopedics, neurology and
gastroenterology. While there are no pro sports in town- the
closest is Jacksonville’s new National Football League
Jaguars, a little over an hour away-the UF Fightin’ Gators
football team is a local passion. The seventh-ranked Gators
(10-2-1 last year) "are practically a religion," says UF
psychology professor Betty Capaldi.
Although no Fortune
500 companies are based in Gainesville either, you’ll
recognize some employers. For example, Energizer makes its
rechargeable batteries here. Mainly, though, the city is an
entrepreneur’s haven. Many companies-like Bear Archery and
Hunter marine, a leading sailboat maker-capitalize on the
South’s passion for sports. Jim Wood, 46, a former real
estate agent, moved from Philadelphia in 1989 and now runs
the Santa Fe Canoe Outpost. Weekends, eager renters take his
100 canoes for leisurely paddles to Rum Island or
Hollingsworth Bluff, 15 miles away. "I don’t miss the rat
race at all," Wood says.
Gainesville, this year’s top
place, offers a gracious charm and relaxed life that few
U.S. spots can match. There’s plenty of outdoor recreation,
affordable housing, topnotch health care-and a vibrant local
economy to boot. Listed below is a cross section of
Gainesvilleans who tell why they are particularly partial to
their town, home to the University of Florida.
Say Why They Love It
- "Feeding the family is cheap: $5.50 for us, $2.75
for our kids"
- "Its an excellent medical community that offers me
- "There’s clean air, lots of space for us-and it’s
safer than Taiwan."
- "The people in Gainesville like to help new
business. We’re earning more than $4.00 an hour."
- "I like tubing and swimming in the springs and
hiking along the trails around Gainesville."
- "Retirees are integrated into the community and not