Please Don’t Kill the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg
‘Horse Capital of the World’: It is one of the first signs a person sees entering Marion County. Touted by public relations pieces on Ocala, it is one of the primary slogans used by tourism and Marion County publications. Horse Capital of the World is what compels thousands of horse owners to purchase farms and land, spend millions on barns and fencing, and call Marion County home. Horse Capital of the World is what draws thousands of seasonal visitors who spend billions of dollars in the local economy.
Sadly, the threat of the proposed Northern Turnpike Extension and the overdevelopment that will follow, will bring irreversible changes that are in major conflict with the rural nature of Marion County and the horse industry.
Marion County’s horse farms and the business support and purchasing they require, represents an enormous economic engine for Marion County. Major studies confirm that horse farms promote and preserve open space, are environmentally friendly, contribute significantly to the quality of life for residents, are property tax efficient, and represent the one of the least drains on social services of any major industry. The wholesome environment created by Marion’s horse industry is what attracts thousands of non-horse related families to live in Marion County to share the unique quality of life that can no longer be found in suburbia.
For the last half century, Horse Capital of the World is how Ocala boldly and wisely chosen to brand itself. Ocala has effectively created a world-respected, powerful and much envied brand that contributes immensely to the economy and thereby to the quality of life for all of its residents.
Ocala’s steadfast commitment to the horse industry was, no doubt, a factor in bringing The World Equestrian Center (WEC) to Ocala. WEC is the crown jewel of Marion County and the envy of hundreds of communities across the US. WEC did not locate to Wellington, FL or Lexington, KY ……it came to Ocala because the horse industry is strong and vibrant, because the land is ideal for horses and because local elected officials’ previous actions indicated a strong respect and understanding of the immense value of the horse industry for the entire community.
The horse industry is a major economic engine for Marion County. WEC and other equestrian venues continue to attract millions of visitors who spend generously in this area ensuring that Marion County’s tax revenues will continue to surge. Tourism dollars spent on hotels, meals, gas, equine supplies represent a triple economic value to the county as opposed to expenditure of residential dollars. Clearly, the horse industry is the goose that has laid a golden financial egg for Ocala and Marion County.
But impending events and decisions, specifically and importantly, the Northern Turnpike Extension, are putting this wholesome industry at risk. The threat of a toll road that will dissect areas that are home to farms and to agriculture poses a real and nefarious threat. The reality is that a toll road will generate massive urban sprawl, will pave over open space, will pose a serious threat to water and natural resources and will be devastating to our wildlife. The failure to protect our farms, our agriculture and our green space by not standing tall against an ill-conceived Northern Turnpike Extension will produce an ugly legacy that can never be undone.
The Ocala Horse Alliance is asking our elected leaders in Marion County to make wise and forward-thinking decisions with respect to land conservation, to our county’s quality of life and to ensuring a commitment to remaining the Horse Capital of the World. Please don’t kill the goose that laid the golden economic egg for Marion County.
The Ocala Horse Alliance