ALACHUA – Alachua-based RTI Surgical was one of 12 businesses in Alachua County to receive an award from the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce in its fourth annual Business of the Year awards.

RTI Surgical is known for its work in surgical implants in sports medicine, spine and orthopedic procedures.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce awarded the company with the Best Business Expansion after it bought Pioneer Surgical in July of 2013 for $130 million. RTI is expected to earn $75 million in annual revenue from the purchase.

The company also broke ground earlier this year to build a 41,000-square-foot building in Alachua to expand the company’s headquarters.

“All of us in the park are excited and proud about this award for RTI,” said Patti Breedlove, director of the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator. “They’re already the largest employer in Progress Park and they’ve been a tremendous leader.”

With the expansion of RTI, Progress Corporate Park is growing in businesses, with RTI remaining its largest.

“The park is seeing a lot of growth,” said Jenny Highlander, manager of corporate communications for RTI. “Nanotherapuetics is growing out here, and it definitely goes to show that there is a lot of growth and potential and innovation happening up here in the Progress Corporate Park.”

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce was not the deciding factor in who won the awards, but a board of local members of the community, said Deborah Bowie, vice president of chamber development.

“I think the highest honor that anyone can receive is when your peers tell you, ‘hey, you’re the best at what we’ve seen,’” Bowie said.

When Bowie was sitting in the room watching the award ceremony, she said the effort and work that every local business had put in to becoming one of the best in the community left her in awe.

“I think that when you’re in the mix with peer companies who are maybe doing something better than you, or you are doing something better than them, it’s sort of that rising tide concept,” Bowie said.

The event has helped inspire other businesses in the community by feeding off of the successes and creativity each company offers, Bowie said.

In addition to RTI, local business Peerfly also was awarded with the Overall Best Small Business of the Year. Peerfly is an Alachua-based sales and marketing company, and made the list of the top 30 startup businesses on

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ALACHUA – The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) struck down the City of Gainesville’s proposal to buy the GREC biomass plant for $400 million on Thursday, Nov. 7

The City of Gainesville exercised their contractual right to make an offer first. The city offered $400 million dollars for the plant on Oct. 22. On Nov. 7, GREC officials responded, stating that they would not accept Gainesville’s offer.

The GREC biomass plant will now have a year to search for a buyer that meets their preferred price.

According to a provision in the contract that was signed between Gainesville and GREC in 2009, if the plant were to be sold, Gainesville would be given the right to make an offer, provide 30 days of consideration, and if they chose not to sell to Gainesville, the plant would be sold for more than what Gainesville offered.

The biomass plant and the Gainesville City Commission could not agree on a price because the owners of GREC felt the plant was worth much more than what was offered, said chief financial officer of the GREC plant, Albert Morales.

However, Morales said that the price for the plant was not determined by any specific set of standards.

“The city commission authorized an offer of $400 million with conditions,” said City Commissioner Randy Wells. “Those conditions were intended to protect the utility and the rate-payers from any unforeseen risks coming from buying the plant, as opposed to contracting the power.”

Some of those risks include the plant not operating as designed or not meeting all the permitting and legal requirements. These risks were included in the purchase offer so that the city would make up for the upkeep of the plant, Wells said.

The lead negotiator of the GREC biomass plant came back to the city commission on Nov. 7 and told them GREC was worth hundreds of millions dollars more than the offer Gainesville gave, Wells said.

If the plant is not bought within the next year, the City of Gainesville will be able to put in another bid and the entire process would restart itself, Morales said.

“As a commissioner who voted to make an offer, I clearly believe that with all the evidence available is that a purchase at the right price and right conditions would offer a great deal of value to our customers,” Wells said.

While GREC looks for buyers, residents of the Turkey Creek neighborhood in Alachua are still unhappy with the plant.

Turkey Creek residents are still coming to Alachua City Commission meetings to voice their concerns about the loud noise the plant generates, as well as the dust and odor coming from GREC.

GREC hopes to install noise-dampening panels to help with the problem, aiming for a December completion date.

Russ Pisano, Turkey Creek resident, said the plant should be shut down completely until they resolve the issue.

Various local officials are getting complaints from affected residents through email.

“How is someone expected to cope with such constant stress?” wrote resident Greg Williamson to the Alachua County Commission.

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W - AgainTrickOrTreatOnMain DSC 0725Photo by ZUBIN KAPADIA/Alachua County Today: Hayley De La Pena and her son, Luke, dressed as Batman and Robin.  ALACHUA – Parents and children dressed in colorful costumes, scarecrows stood guard along the streets and local businesses turned into friendly haunted houses last week. The city of Alachua’s Chamber of Commerce transformed Main Street into a scene resembling Disney’s “Halloween Town” for their annual Trick-or-Treat on Main Street event.

Every year, the chamber of commerce creates a family-friendly atmosphere to allow residents to enjoy a night out on the town and give local eateries business. The event allows for children to enjoy themselves while under the protection of the Alachua Police Department.  

There was a multitude of contests, like best costume and scarecrow design. This year’s scarecrow winners were featured along Main Street to add as scenery for guests to enjoy.

The top scarecrow was ProActive Tax’s “Accounting Dracula,” followed by Dr. Douglas M. Adel’s “Monster Mash” band and Vanessa and Tina Polsen’s “Edward Scissorhands.”

The event was open to the public. Local resident James Mathis said he came to bring his son, Edge, to enjoy all the festivities. Mathis said he remembers coming to Trick-or-Treat on Main since he was 13 years old.

David Blackburn, a Gainesville resident, heard about the trick-or-treating through his coworkers in Alachua. Blackburn brought his girlfriend, Rekha Thayil, and daughter, Aliyah Blackburn, to enjoy her first Halloween and their first Trick-or-Treat on Main Street.

“For me, it is two-fold, seeing all of the creativity in the costumes and seeing all the kids reacting to the different festivities,” Blackburn said. “But seeing my daughter enjoying herself is the best part.”

Blackburn wasn’t the only one new to Alachua’s Halloween event. Hayley De La Pena, local teacher at Alachua Elementary brought her son Luke to trick-or-treat. De La Pena and her son teamed up to become the infamous Batman and Robin, with Luke being Batman. Their main focus was on collecting as much candy as possible, they said.

It wasn’t just families who enjoyed the atmosphere. Local restaurants, like Conestogas Restaurant located on Main Street, also prospered in the light of Trick-or-Treat on Main. Bevin Cason, manager at Conestogas Restaurant for the last seven years, said events like these bring in a lot of people and business. Cason said she is grateful for these sorts of events and joked that the restaurant tries to pump the smell of burgers into the street to attract customers.

Trick-or-Treat on Main also allowed for different service organizations to help in the festivities. Groups like the Alachua Lions Club, Alachua Police Explorers and Santa Fe High School’s Beta Club volunteered their time in helping the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the City of Alachua with the Trick-or-Treat on Main.

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ALACHUA COUNTY  – The communities of Alachua and High Springs are joining forces again this year for the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser.

The event had its official kick-off meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 6. In the upcoming months, the teams will conduct more fundraisers, about one program per month.

Sharon Yeago, the event chair for High Springs, will be co-chairing the event with Dr. Mitch Fearing, who practices medicine in Alachua, on May 9.

“Working towards a common goal, the 2014 Relay for Life ‘Hooked on a Cure,’ we hope to sign up at least 25 teams and raise at least $36,000,” said Yeago.

There will also be upcoming joint fundraisers for the two cities at restaurants. On Sunday, Nov. 10, there was a booth at the Main Street Festival in Alachua.

Last year, they had city officials from both cities bartend at a local restaurant, and all the tips and a portion of the sales went toward cancer research. The teams aim to get in touch with different businesses and will try to raise money from the community before the next event.  

“This is such a great opportunity to bring the Alachua and High Springs communities together,” Yeago said.

The event, an overnight community fundraising walk, is slated to take place in May at a currently unannounced location. So far, 11 teams have signed up from both cities.

In the coming months, Yeago hopes to raise as much as possible for cancer research through the Alachua and High Springs teams’ programs and activities dedicated to the event.

“I think we can do this because of the great folks from these two, very special communities working together," Yeago said.

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W - Blue springs

Photo special to Alachua County Today/ Divers and swimmers at Blue Springs near High Springs. Kim Davis' family has owned the location since 1958.

HIGH SPRINGS – Kim Davis has run Blue Springs for nearly 27 years. The spring itself has belonged to her family for 55 years. But all of that may soon change.

Davis and her brother, Matt Bahr, are looking for someone to buy the spring they have held near to their hearts for the majority of their lives.

The family received the spring in 1958, and Davis’ parents have been involved in running it since. When both her mother and father passed away earlier this year, she decided it was time to move on.

“We have a couple of other family businesses as well and have been stretched fairly thin,” Davis said. “This is something we needed to do and decided now was the time.”

She was not alone in making the final decision. Bahr, who was also active in the family operation, agreed it was the right thing to do.

“We have been in this area since I was very young,” Bahr said. “But this was a wish my dad had before he died, he wanted us to sell.”

However, the family knows that it will not be easy to let go of the Blue Springs.

“It is with a very heavy heart that we look for a buyer for our spring,” Davis said. “This is definitely an emotional time.”

Davis said she is looking for someone to take the spring to a better place than she could. She wants to find a new owner that would do everything they could to protect it, she said.

“I have no preference of a public or private buyer,” Davis said. “But people need to realize, what goes into the ground comes out in the water, and I want someone to protect the water.”

The property is 401.6 acres and is located near High Springs at 7450 NE 60th Street.

While the spring has been on the market for just over five months, with a list price of $10 million, it has garnered some interest, Bahr said.

Another goal of the family is to see the new ownership keep the current employees on staff.

“There has been no harder working staff than we have had,” Bahr said. Some of them have been there working there for 10 to 15 years.

“They all know the spring like the back of their hand now,” he said. “It would take new people a couple of years to get fully up to speed on those things.”

“Anyone coming in to the situation would need to know that these people are the best and really enjoy their work,” Davis said. “We would no doubt express to them that we want that to keep going, and I hope they would appreciate the staff.”

The state of Florida has many springs in its state park program, and is a possible option as a buyer for Blue Springs. It is still unclear if a deal would be made between the two parties.

“I would not be opposed to anyone at this point,” Davis said. “Really, my ultimate goal is just to have someone that wants to keep it open and keep it protected.”

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Photo/CARL MCKINNEY: Sue Weller, right, campaigns with her supporters last Tuesday prior to the election. 

HIGH SPRINGS – Tension was high Tuesday evening as candidates and supporters waited for election results at the High Springs Civic Center on U.S. Highway 441.

Candidates and poll watchers carefully observed the process as officials checked and double-checked the tallies in the race for a single seat on the High Springs City Commission between incumbent Sue Weller and challenger Bobby Summers.

City Clerk Jenny Parham announced the final election results to the waiting crowd at 7:50 p.m. to a resounding cheer from Weller’s supporters.

Out of around 3,600 registered High Springs’ voters, a total of only 712 ballots were cast during this election, with 373 going to Sue Weller, giving her the lead over Bobby Summers’ 325 votes. Of those ballots cast, 55 were submitted as absentee ballots, about average for a local election, said Parham.

Weller thanked her supporters for carrying her through the election.

“When the ballot numbers were read, my first feeling was relief,” Weller said. “It was a close race, but I think the citizens want our community to move forward and stop bickering.”

As far as her thoughts on the city’s future, Weller said she would like to see the city continue with plans to develop the downtown area and for the commissioners to work together for the benefit of all of the citizens.

“In the past, we have had a negative reputation, which has hurt us financially as well as being an embarrassment for our citizens.”

Challenger Bobby Summers made a few brief comments.

“The people spoke and that’s the way it is,” he said. “It was a hard-fought race and she came out on top.”

The night was not without incidents.

There was an electrical problem at Precinct 60, located at Fellowship Baptist Church of High Springs. An electrical surge caused a short in one of the voting machines when it was plugged in. No votes had been cast on that machine, and a new one was sent out to the site by county election officials and was properly certified in view of both candidates and the poll workers. Tests were run to make sure the new machine had been properly secured and was running efficiently.

Everything was back on track by 9 a.m., said City Manager Ed Booth.

Although the ballots were counted and the numbers were announced Tuesday night, the canvassing board must still meet in a public forum to audit and certify the election results. That meeting will take place Thursday, Nov. 7 at City Hall. Parham said that the time will be announced on the city’s web page, but could be as early as 9 a.m., if the county elections office is able to verify the four provisional ballots early enough.

The city charter lists the canvassing board members as the city manager, city clerk and city attorney.

Weller, a native Floridian and graduate of the University of Florida, has served as commissioner for the past three years and as mayor for the past year.

Weller will be sworn into office at the regular commission meeting on Nov. 14, and the new commission will vote to elect a mayor for the upcoming year.

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ALACHUA – The residents of Turkey Creek will soon have the opportunity to report their complaints of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center (GREC) biomass plant to a call center.

The funding for the call center was agreed upon in a City of Alachua commission meeting Monday, Nov. 4 to allow a place for those affected by the biomass plant to describe their issues.

The Biomass plant has had controversy surrounding it since it began running in August. Although it’s located in Gainesville, many of the residents of Turkey Creek in Alachua have experienced problems concerning the amount of noise the plant emits and are looking to the city to solve the issue.

By providing a call center, Alachua is trying to free up calls to officers about noise complaints from the plant, said Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari.

“It’s really a response to providing a more streamline approach to this and not taking officers off the street that respond to emergency situations,” Boukari said.

Alachua residents have been coming to the commission meetings since August to voice their concerns about noise and dust pollution coming from the plant. Officials from city governments and the county have been receiving complaints through phone and email.

“It was so loud last night, my four-year-old cried going to sleep,” wrote Gina Rone in an email to the county commission. “He said ‘that loud noise scares me, mommy.’”

When the biomass plant was being built, Turkey Creek resident Russ Pisano said they were assured they wouldn’t even know the plant was there.

GREC provides electricity through burning wood waste. Dust coming from the wood piles has caused workers of the nearby Alachua County Public Works compound to complain of irritated throats, eyes and difficulty breathing.

In addition to the call center, the meeting ended with the commission suggesting the city manager look into setting up a workshop to work on creating an effective noise ordinance.

“I would like to see a workshop first and foremost on any type of noise ordinance, because I am not for something that is so strict that it totally handcuffs the community, but at the same time, I do want something that will help protect our citizens as well,” said Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr.

The call center will be put in place and functioning within the next week.

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