The Guide asked three local community leaders why they chose to call the Greater Gainesville area home.

DEBORAH V. BOWIE, IOM, CCE—President/CEO, United Way of North Central Florida

It was April 2013, and I had made what turned out to be the most important decision in my life — I moved to Gainesville, Florida. I had a specific reason for choosing Gainesville, and it had everything to do with my son, who is the only boy in a set of triplets and the only one with autism. I’d lived in the south for some years and learned after his diagnosis at the age of 2 years old that finding a community with resources for the disabled would prove to be more challenging than anyone could imagine. So, I did what many people do before thinking of their next moves — I started a wish list.

I have three other children, all girls, who are not autistic, so relocating to a town with a solid public school system was just as important. I also needed a community with a strong medical anchor replete with specialists in speech and occupational therapy and also experienced in Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA in the autism world. The community would need to foster a lifestyle conducive to healthy living and a strong commitment to environmental stewardship. The more I pondered over my wish list, the more I thought, “There’s no place on earth that meets this criteria,” and then, I found Gainesville.

I was fortunate to transfer years of experience in business development in the chamber of commerce industry, where I had worked as a lobbyist and vice president at chambers in Alabama and Georgia, to the region’s largest business advocacy group, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. I learned Gainesville has a strong, thriving, and growing base of entrepreneurs who make up an impressive portfolio of emergent industry sectors including advanced manufacturing and technology. These start-ups, along with more established businesses, are helping make the Gainesville region one of the most competitive in the nation. From Innovation Square to the world-class bio-science corridor in Alachua County, Gainesville is quietly putting itself on the map and in the running with other communities to be the hub of talent, innovation and opportunity.

In the fall, a year and a half after relocating to Gainesville, I was recruited to lead another important regional organization, the United Way of North Central Florida. Celebrating nearly 60 years in business, the UWNCFL is one of the top performing United Ways in the country. Supporting a region of six counties, the UWNCFL has raised more than $91 million since opening its doors in 1957 to help improve the lives of people living in North Central Florida. In 2008, the agency revamped its operations and became an Impact Model United Way. The switch empowered the agency to target four key areas of focus with which to direct funding: education, income, health and immediate needs. Today, the UWNCFL provides funding for 26 programs across 19 agencies in the region, each with a laser focus on “Turning the Curve” on key issues identified by the community.

When I think back to my wish list, I realize that Gainesville did not just meet my needs, it exceeded them, and that is the best reason of all to call Gainesville “home.”

BARZELLA PAPA—President and CEO, Community Foundation of North Central Florida

On behalf of our nonprofit sector, welcome to Greater Gainesville! With more than 15 years of first-hand experience working with local nonprofits, I can personally attest that the kindness, support and commitment of our residents truly make Gainesville great! We are so proud of the philanthropic work and charitable spirit in our community and invite you to join in to make our home the best place to live, work and play.

One of the things that make our community so special is our generosity. Alachua County ranks 293 out of 3,115 counties in the United States for charitable giving. In 2012, $112.5 million in local individual contributions placed our county in the top 10 percent in the country!

We are very proud of the titles and awards bestowed upon our community over the years and that includes our local philanthropic accolades. Compared to our fellow Florida counties, we rank 13th in giving by foundations with $17.2 million of charitable gifts deriving from Alachua County foundations and we ranked 15th in Florida in total foundation assets with $209.3 million.

With more than 300 local nonprofits, Alachua County’s nonprofit sector is vital to our community. Currently 20 percent of our county’s workforce is employed by a nonprofit organization while more than 26,000 residents participated in volunteering during the past year. And, while there is a wide array of services and resources to meet community needs, more than half of our county’s nonprofits are focused on health, education and human services. The positive influence local nonprofits have on our quality of life makes our region a great place to live!

Whatever your passion, you will find a local cause. Welcome!

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