Bradford County and the city of Starke have both been the target of recent economic development funding. Beginning at the local level with the ‘Envision Bradford’ program headed by Santa Fe College, the city gained the attention of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which selected Starke for its Competitive Florida Partnership. The Partnership is meant to help develop rural communities by tailoring economic development plans to the available assets of those communities. After doing an initial review of the community, the DEO will offer its resources and funding, along with help with other state agencies.
This comes as good news to Starke citizens, as Bradford county has been loosing losing jobs and population in recent years. The unemployment rate in Bradford County is currently below the state average, however the number of people with jobs fell 7 percent from 11,985 in 2007 to 11,137 in November of 2014. Census data also shows that the only about 9.2 percent of the population in Bradford County has a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26.4 percent state wide. The city of Starke has also lost many of its local businesses and franchises in recent years, such as Riverside Uniform Rentals and Commercial Metals Company, along with its local Wendy’s and Burger King.
The Envision Bradford Program identifies needs that inhibit economic development, in this case, the need to expand water and sewer service along with broadband connectivity. Residents are also concerned that the new bypass, which will route traffic west of Starke to U.S. 301, will have a negative impact on the town’s development. The DEO plans on taking an inventory of the assets available to the city, such as the amount of railroad frontage it has, the amount of land it has zoned for commercial or industrial use, and the amount of available hanger space at its local Keystone Heights airport.