Every community is like a magnet in that either attracts or repels its best and brightest minds, and Ocala wants to be that positive side of the magnet. Each year approximately 3,000 students graduate from Marion County high schools, but the overwhelming majority of the county's students leave for college, not planning on returning to the place they call home to find their dream job.
Right now, many students just don’t see an opportunity for them in Ocala, which is why Ocala/Marion County is losing on the educational investment in their children each year. Kevin Reed, director of the community’s new business incubator, The Power Plant, has been working to "Flip the Magnet" and create those opportunities that will invite students back to a community that not only loves them, but needs their entrepreneurial stimulation. The Power Plant, an affiliate of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, has been busy over the past year luring new high-tech startups to our community, and it is those companies’ need for young, innovative workers that has brought a longstanding problem to the forefront.
Every year about 2,500 young people graduate from Ocala/Marion County high schools and about half of those go on to some sort of college. Fewer than half, however, return to pursue a career. Considering it costs the county about $180,000 to educate a child from kindergarten to diploma, when so many go away and don’t come back, an investment in future community leadership is lost.
Ocala/Marion County already has a deficit of educated workers, with only about 11 percent of the population holding four-year degree — compared to about 16 percent statewide. That makes it harder to attract employers who pay good wages, because if they can’t find educated talent, why bother locating within the county.
To help give Flip the Magnet legs, Reed and the Power Plant are trying to raise $180,000 to provide 300 “student memberships” to the Power Plant, so our best and brightest will have a chance to see that more and more Ocala/Marion County does have 21st century opportunities for them.
But the need for young talent goes far beyond The Power Plant. It reaches into Ocala's hospitals, banks, schools, and newspapers. This is a cause everyone should be cheering on because there will be a need for new leaders who have a stake in our community, and Flip the Magnet can be a critical catalyst in building a foundation for the next generation of leaders.
For more information about the Flip the Magnet, visit http://ocalapowerplant.com/flip-the-magnet/.