Around the State- Central- Sept. 2001
Enterprise Volusia couldn't see eye-to-eye with county leaders; now it's being shut down.
By Ken Ibold
Enterprise Volusia's carriage is about to turn into a pumpkin. Volusia County's public/private economic development office will shut down Sept. 30, and its mission will be assumed by a new county department. But the shift is more than just a changing of the guard; it represents a fundamental disagreement among the county's power brokers about what Volusia ought to look like.
John Evans, former chairman of Enterprise Volusia, says county leaders see economic growth in adjoining Brevard and Seminole counties and wonder why they haven't gotten a bigger slice of the pie. But they disagree on what kinds of businesses to target and even what constitutes economic development.
"What we are seeing is a great deal of frustration on the part of politicians being played out," Evans says.
The County Council voted in March to cut its funding for Enterprise Volusia, which also received money from eight cities and 150 businesses. Now, County Manager Cindy Coto plans to combine the county's economic development efforts into an agency that will also oversee tourist development, Daytona International Airport and the Ocean Center. The county hopes to have more input in formulating a cohesive vision plan under the new scenario.
The move came on the heels of a study by Jacksonville-based Strategic Planning Group, which concluded the 15-year-old Enterprise Volusia lacked vision and was ineffective at executing its strategic plan.
But some say County Council members got fed up with constant disagreements with Enterprise Volusia President Drew Page. Communications suffered, and Coto, who took the county manager's job in November after serving as deputy county manager in Seminole County for more than five years, was under pressure to do something about it.
"We're desperate for good-paying industry," says Suzanne Kuehn, economic development administrator for Daytona Beach.
Business representatives worry that prospects may be put off by the potential loss of confidentiality that may come with a government agency handling economic development inquiries -- despite a recent law protecting that information. Says Evans, "Under the best of conditions, this is a setback for Volusia."
Enterprise Volusia will donate its leftover cash, which may exceed $150,000, to the new Advanced Technology Center in Daytona Beach. The board of Enterprise Volusia determined such a gesture would be fitting because the county's biggest weakness, according to prospective businesses, is its relatively low-skilled workforce.
In the News
LONGWOOD -- Precision Response Corp. of Fort Lauderdale is buying Hancock Information Group of Longwood for an undisclosed price. Hancock operates a call center in Longwood and another in Maitland that together employ about 350. PRC's core business is in inbound call centers. The purchase of Hancock allows the company to expand its outbound business.
MAITLAND -- GoCo-op Inc., an e-commerce company that provides web-based procurement systems for hospitality companies, has received $23 million in fresh venture capital following a revamping of the company's management team. The deal provides $12.5 million immediately and up to $10.5 million over the next year if the company meets specific performance objectives. Key to the deal is GoCo-op's five-year contract with Avendra LLC, a procurement firm created by Marriott, Hyatt and several other hotel chains. Invemed Associates of New York, one of the original investors in GoCo-op, led the latest venture team. Other details were not available.
MELBOURNE -- AirNet Communications Corp. is restructuring in an effort to cut expenses by about one-third. The plan may mean layoffs for about a quarter of the company's 270 employees. The 7-year-old Harris Corp. spinoff manufactures equipment used in wireless phone systems.
ORLANDO -- Central Florida Venture Group is developing a venture capital fund consisting of investments by central Florida millionaires in local technology startup companies. The group cites recent Census Bureau figures that there are more than 5,000 millionaires in central Florida and is aiming to get them to commit at least $50,000 to the fund. The fund will focus on financing of $100,000 to $500,000, a mission generally ignored by larger venture capital funds.
The Hispanic Business Initiative Fund, which now helps businesses in Orange, Osceola and Hillsborough counties, will begin offering assistance throughout central Florida and into Jacksonville by the end of the year. The group was hoping to extend its reach into south Florida as well, but it received only $250,000 in state funding. It had been expecting $1 million.
SeaWorld Orlando celebrated the first anniversary of Discovery Cove by announcing an expansion of the park's aviary and stringray wading areas and the addition of a kids' coral reef swim area.
In the next year, Darden Restaurants (NYSE-DRI) plans to open 10 more Smokey Bones barbecue restaurants, giving it a total of 20, and eight to 10 more Bahama Breeze restaurants, for a total of 29 to 31 ["Fresh and Relevant," July 2001].
Pennsylvania-based TW Metals is building a 48,000-sq.-ft. service center and office facility at Airport Industrial Park, doubling the size of its current southwest Orange County facility. The new building is scheduled for completion by year-end.
Universal Orlando laid off at least 20 people in a restructuring of its sales and marketing division, which employs about 300. The company says the move was a streamlining that brought two departments under one vice president, but one fired worker told the Orlando Sentinel it was a result of sagging theme park attendance.
OSCEOLA COUNTY -- Disney has put off the opening of its newest hotel from December to March because some of the common areas at the Pop Century Resort will not be finished. The complex consists of several independent "lodges," each of which celebrates a particular era of the 20th century. All of the lodges at the 5,760-room resort are not expected to be completed until 2003.
SANFORD -- Atlanta-based tour operator Vacation Express plans to create a hub at Orlando Sanford International Airport that would link six U.S. cities with seven destinations in the Caribbean. The hub should handle about 350,000 passengers per year -- increasing the airport's passenger count by some 30%. Vacation Express is a subsidiary of Airtours, which already operates charter flights between Sanford and the United Kingdom.
WINTER PARK -- The redeveloped Langford Hotel will be operated by Dallas-based Rosewood Hotels & Resorts if plans for the sale and redevelopment of the landmark property go through. Two deals for the closed hotel have fallen through, but Langford Development LLC has stepped forward with a proposal that includes 150 rooms, 25 million-dollar condos, a 12,500-sq.-ft. spa and a top-of-the-line restaurant. If the deal materializes, the $70-million redevelopment could be completed in early 2003.
FDN Inc. ceased operations when it couldn't pay its officers or board of directors and they all resigned. FDN, which did business as FON Digital Networks, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation for two of its divisions in March.
ORANGE COUNTY -- Computer Sciences Corp., based in El Segundo, Calif., has launched a simulator unit at Central Florida Research Park to take advantage of potential contracts with the Army Simulation, Training & Instrumentation Command (Stricom). The new unit will employ 25 initially but may grow to more than twice that if the company wins several of the contracts on which it has bid.
Electronic Data Systems of Dallas also expanded its simulation training operation, boosting employment from 12 to 30, with more on the way. In addition, the University of Central Florida and the U.S. Army have rolled out a joint research center aimed at improving simulation technology. The 34,000-sq.-ft. facility combines $50 million worth of military and commercial projects under one roof.