Behind a few superficial similarities are some concerns about torrid growth.
By Ken Ibold
With a population of around 1.5 million, greater Orlando is still a long way from joining the ranks of massive motorized centers like Los Angeles. But at cocktail parties and business networking groups, likening fast-growing central Florida to already-grown Southern California is becoming a more frequent sport.
Complaints about traffic and sprawl are nothing new, but recent gripes add immigration, the growing gap between the rich and the poor and degradation of the environment. "I actually saw smog a few times last summer," groused one Kissimmee businessman who backs a number of high-profile central Florida businesses.
Other superficial similarities with Los Angeles: An economy with a heavy entertainment presence -- theme parks and the growing presence of film and television production, which accounted for $390 million in direct spending in 1999 in Orlando; a growing stable of resident celebrities, including Tiger Woods and Pete Sampras; occasional water shortages; and wildfires.
While the resemblance with L.A. may be as much imagined as real -- only two Florida counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, make the EPA's top 25 most-polluted list, which L.A. tops -- torrid growth and its effects are a reality. Orlando was the fifth-fastest-growing city during the last half of the 1990s and is expected to move up further in those rankings. Woods & Poole, a demographic analysis firm, projects 1.83 million residents by 2008. That would make Orlando the second-fastest-growing city behind Phoenix. Valuation Network has Orlando topping Phoenix's growth rate.
Metro Orlando's 3,000 manufacturers have made it one of the 50 largest metropolitan areas for manufacturing, according to Plants Sites and Parks, a national site location magazine.
Orlando's infrastructure has had a tough time keeping pace. The Orange County public school system is now the 16th-largest among the nation's 16,000 school districts -- and crowded enough that former Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez blocked some new developments because there weren't enough schools to handle any more new students.
The 40 million tourists who visit central Florida each year pump a lot of money into the economy, but they also help clog roads and fuel demand for low-wage service workers who are having an increasingly tougher time finding affordable housing. A task force created by Martinez two years ago found that renters would have to earn $13.04 an hour to afford an average two-bedroom apartment -- meaning two $6.50-an-hour workers couldn't make it.
The average price of a new home, meanwhile, has climbed from $107,000 in 1991 to $170,000 in 1999. In 1986, more than 71% of residents lived in housing they owned; that figure fell to 62%
by 1999 -- far below the national average of 67%.
But not everyone is complaining. J. Darrell Kelley, CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida, believes growth is helping Orlando a lot more than it's hurting. "I lived in Ohio during the Rust Belt days, when the economy was in the doldrums, and I have to say after walking the streets of Cleveland and Columbus and seeing the look of hopelessness on faces, I would rather take the challenges we face with growth any day of the week," he says.
Politics: A New Chairman
Gov. Jeb Bush has appointed Orange County Property Appraiser Rich Crotty as the county's new chairman, replacing Mel Martinez. Crotty, who will make $123,924 a year as county chairman, was a state representative for 12 years and a state senator for two before taking over at the appraiser's office.
In the News
Altamonte Springs -- A film producer who worked on The Blair Witch Project but was shut out of the film's blockbuster profits has settled his lawsuit against the filmmakers for an undisclosed amount. Sam Barber relinquished his copyrights and will receive a "pre-production supervisor" credit on future copies of the movie.
Daytona Beach -- Daytona International Speedway has begun work on a $4-million expansion that will include two simulator rides that will give patrons the feeling of driving in a race.
Lake Mary -- Paladyne Corp. (OTCBB-PLDY) plans to buy E-Commerce Support Centers of Jacksonville, N.C., for $5 million. The move would boost its revenues from $5 million a year to $25 million and bump up employment from 25 to 800. Paladyne designs software that manages databases. E-Commerce operates call centers.
Ocoee -- Health Central hospital says it will spend $42 million on an expansion and renovation project that will increase the 334,000-sq.-ft. facility by 100,000 square feet. The independent hospital will not add patient beds but will use the additional space for offices, labs, operating rooms and emergency services.
Orlando -- ABC Radio Inc. is buying WHOO-AM (990) and will change its format to Radio Disney, a popular children's format now heard in 48 other markets.
OurBeginning.com, which made a splash during last year's Super Bowl telecast with its battling brides ad, is changing its business plan from an online retailer to a wholesaler for more conventional outlets. The company's website will be scaled down. It expects only 20% of its future business to come from sales directly to consumers.
Entravision Communications Corp. has completed its purchase of WNTO-Channel 26. The move will allow the Univision affiliate to move from its low-power channel 63 and broadcast its Spanish-language shows from Flagler County to Lake County. The $25.5-million purchase gives Entravision the rights to WNTO's 5-million watt license.
NBA City, the restaurant company so far limited to one unit in Orlando, has hired former Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood executive James Stanley, who pledges to open several outlets in the U.S. and Asia.
BellSouth Corp. says it will dump digital television service Americast, which it has been offering in Orlando for nearly two years. The company says it will refocus its efforts on high-speed DSL internet service.
Orlando police are investigating Game Imports Co. after the company allegedly sold $250,000 worth of PlayStation 2 game consoles it didn't have. The investigation began when someone purporting to be from Game Imports delivered to the Better Business Bureau a package containing checks and money orders worth $183,000 and a note asking that the money be returned to the senders. In a letter accompanying the package, the company blamed a supplier for failing to provide the popular machines.
Tiger Woods, Joe Montana, Andre Agassi and Monica Seles have terminated their endorsement deals with All Star Cafe, a subsidiary of Planet Hollywood International (OTCBB-PHWD), and all of their memorabilia has been returned. Planet Hollywood is backing away from the All Star concept to focus on its core restaurants. Separately, Hong Kong-based Star East Holdings Ltd. upped its stake in Planet Hollywood to 18%. Star East operates Planet Hollywood franchises in Asia and was a principal in bailing the ailing restaurant company out of bankruptcy court last year.
Port Canaveral -- Attempts by the Canaveral Port Authority to shut down a cruise ship featuring nude dancers became moot when lenders seized the ship, The Canaveral Star, and shut down the Buoy Club.
Sanford -- The state Insurance Department is suing KPMG for its role in the failure of SunStar Health Plan of Lake Mary. The Insurance Department contends the accounting firm's audits in 1997 and 1998 should have revealed financial impropriety.
Tavares -- About 400 workers at AG Carriers lost their jobs three days before Christmas when the company closed without notice. AG Carriers was one of Lake County's largest trucking companies, with a fleet of 125 tractors and 150 refrigerated trailers.
Cruise Industry: Out to Sea
PORT CANAVERAL -- Carnival Cruise Lines (NYSE-CCL) changed its plan to base its troubled 1,022-passenger Tropicale cruise ship in Port Canaveral, opting instead to send the ship to a subsidiary to expand European business. Carnival's oldest ship has been plagued by problems, including a fire in 1999.