We’re About To Find Out.
In just a month, the Marion County Quality of Life Survey results will be revealed at our Conservation Summit. These results will be the culmination of a year’s work, building a collaborative partnership with the business community and working with an independent research firm.
“Growth is booming In Ocala/Marion in both population and commercially,” says Dr. Jennifer Fryns, Associate VP of Career and Professional Programs at the College of Central Florida. “This is a great time to understand the community’s perspective to learn how best to plan and manage this growth for the benefit of all in the near and distant future.”
While Horse Farms Forever was the catalyst for the Survey, we are honored to collaborate with five sponsors who represent the business and non-profit community in Marion County: Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership, College of Central Florida, Ocala Horse Properties, Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association and Hotel Development and Management Group. The Matrix Group, an independent insights and consulting firm based in Lexington, Kentucky, is administering, processing and tabulating responses. Working closely with our partners, we sought to ask the questions that are on the minds of Marion County’s residents.
Outside The Echo Chamber
Horse Farms Forever is about preserving the character and culture that horses, horse farms, and the Farmland Preservation Area bring to Marion County. But in order to make a difference, we need to know if these values are shared within the greater community.
“We can speculate as to what people think. We can talk to our friends and acquaintances, but we likely will only hear what we already know, so it can risk becoming an echo chamber,” says Ocala Metro CEP President Kevin Sheilley. “A survey gives a chance to get input and feedback from a broad spectrum of our community. It doesn’t necessarily mean all those opinions are based in fact, but it is important to understand the broader picture.”
A Pivot Point
This is a time ripe with opportunity, and Ocala is not just another sunbelt boomtown. Lonny Powell, CEO of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeder’s and Owner’s Association puts it succinctly:
“Never have the issues of growth, farmland preservation, economy, agriculture and our County quality of life intersected so. The time is right for the Survey.”
Ocala Horse Properties’ Matt Varney drills down further:
“Ocala is incredibly unique in that it is growing on two different tracks. On one hand, we are adding diverse industry, housing and jobs – classic urban growth. But also, we have one of the largest regional farmland preservation areas in the country and a thriving equine industry dependent on those farms,” says Varney. “The survey will show the importance of both of these growth directions, and inspire our leaders to plan accordingly,” he asserts.
The Survey results have potential to guide planning and policy at both the County and State levels. Together with our partners, we hope to inspire positive and lasting change in terms of farmland preservation but also in terms of jobs, internet access, housing, and education.
Win-Win or Train Wreck?
Are the two tracks of growth described by Varney destined to collide, or can they thrive alongside each other?
“Marion County can responsibly grow in a lot of different directions,” adds Varney. “I’m from a family of developers and have seen the effects of shortsighted development. We are unbelievably fortunate to have the Farmland Preservation Area and Urban Growth Area here, and leadership that values them equally.”
Sheilley reminds us of the interdependency of the two tracks:
“If you are unemployed, struggling, unsure of how to plan for your family, you do not have quality of life. All the open space and farms in the world will not improve that. Growth allows us to support the needs of many while preserving and enhancing those pieces which help to provide a great quality of life in our community.”
Who Drives Conservation?
Can a county-wide conservation movement be driven by the business community? It can when we remember that, here in Ocala/Marion, eighteen-percent of our GDP is generated by the equine industry. Just as a manufacturing town needs factories, and a tourist town needs attractions, the Horse Capital of the World® needs horse farms. Sheilley concurs:
“We are the voice of business and our mission is to be the catalyst of a prosperous community – not the business community, not the Southeast community, not the farm country community but the WHOLE community. You can grow the economy, create economic diversification, support entrepreneurship for all people, and maintain the parts that make Ocala unique. We know what a powerful economic driver the equine industry is and can be in the future.”
How powerful is Ocala’s global brand as Horse Capital of the World®? The Survey will give us an indication of how deeply it is woven into the fabric of everyday lives. Ocala Horse Properties sees that power first-hand in its client interactions:
“We look into the faces of buyers who come to this area for the first time,” answers Ocala Horse Properties’ Varney. “They are in awe of the natural beauty and open space. This is one of the few places in the country where I can literally sell a farm that is worth more as a horse farm than as anything else. This area is unique. I want to know that when I’m long gone, there will still be beautiful open space, horse farms, and a community of likeminded people,” he concludes.
The College of Central Florida serves to support the skills requirements of the present workforce and the dreams of future generations with life-changing education. They chose to participate in the Survey as part of their continuous practice of tuning their offerings to the community’s changing needs.
“The demands in workforce development are our top priorities while supporting the cultural endeavors of the region,” says Fryns, “We’re part of the fabric of the community. Participating in this important survey at this moment in time is what we are here to do as we work to serve our mission. We are excited to see the results and look forward to the ensuing discussions.”
Join The Conversation
On November 23 at Ocala Breeder’s Sales (OBS), Kevin Sheilley will present the results of the Quality of Life Survey in detail on behalf of The Matrix Group. We hope you will join us there and participate in shaping a healthy future for Marion County and its horse farms. In-person and live-stream options are available. To learn more, visit: https://www.horsefarmsforever.com/conservation-summit/