Widely known for theme parks and rocket ships, East Central Florida continues to benefit from the two industries — tourism and aviation/aerospace — that have long served as bookends for its ever-expanding economy.
In 2011, Orlando became the first U.S. destination to top 55 million visitors in a single year, and 2012 numbers appear equally promising. Along Florida’s Spacecoast, the anticipated severe declines in business activity and employment following the final shuttle launch in July 2011 have largely failed to materialize. Thanks to the ready availability of skilled labor and flight-tested facilities, new aviation/aerospace companies are moving in and existing firms are looking to expand.
Transportation into and around the region is evolving too. Passenger traffic at Port Canaveral grew 13.9% to nearly 1.6 million in 2011 and is expected to rise again in 2012 as another cruise terminal and welcome center open. On land, work has begun on the SunRail commuter train system connecting Orlando/Orange County with Volusia, Seminole and Osceola counties. At each of the planned 17 stations along the 61-mile route, opportunities exist for business and residential development.
WHO LIVES HERE
Young, vibrant, multicultural
One-third of metro Orlando’s population — 2 million and growing — is between the ages of 20 and 44. Latin influences are especially strong in the region, most notably in Osceola County, where the share of Hispanics has doubled in the last 10 years and is forecast to reach 46.8% by 2015.
Engineers and innovators
Brevard County, focal point for Florida’s aviation industry, boasts 48 engineers per 1,000 workers, more than any other Florida metro area or, for that matter, any of the 25 most populated metros in the U.S. And this is a workforce eager to innovate, attracting 13 patents for every 10,000 workers — more than double the national average.
The space shuttles no longer fly, but Cape Canaveral remains busy with a steady stream of military and communication satellite lift-offs. And now that facilities and skilled personnel are free for new assignments, many stalwart aviation/aerospace firms are growing:
• At Kennedy Space Center, NASA and Lockheed Martin are teaming up to produce a spacecraft capable of traveling 15 times farther than the orbit of the International Space Station; here, too, The Boeing Company plans to locate its Commercial Crew program headquarters and manufacture its Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100) spacecraft, creating approximately 550 jobs in the process.
• Brazilian executive jet manufacturer Embraer is constructing the 67,000-sq.-ft. Embraer Engineering and Technology Center USA adjacent to its existing Embraer Executive Jets Division Headquarters at Melbourne International Airport.
Soon to join existing tenants Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the Cancer Research Institute of MD Anderson Orlando and University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine at Lake Nona “Medical City” in east Orange County are Nemours Children’s Hospital and the University of Florida Research and Academic Center in fall 2012 and, in 2013, the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
In downtown Orlando, Florida Hospital and Sanford-Burnham Institute have jointly opened the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes (TRI), a state-of-the-art facility aimed at personalizing the treatment of diabetes and obesity.
Orlando’s three major theme parks are in expansion mode:
• At Universal Orlando: A new ride through the lab/home of Despicable Me opened in July 2012, and a fourth on-site hotel — the 1,800-room Cabana Bay Beach Resort — is scheduled to open in 2014.
• At SeaWorld Orlando: “Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin,” which promises an “immersive” visitor experience — life on the ice through a penguin’s eyes — is scheduled to open in spring 2013 as part of the park’s largest-ever expansion.
• At Walt Disney World: A new and improved Fantasyland featuring new rides and more fairy tale princesses is taking shape, and the 2,000-room, $350-million Art of Animation Resort welcomed its first guests in summer 2012.
Elsewhere, Daytona International Speedway is talking potential redevelopment, and tourism at the Cape will get a boost when the $100-million Atlantis space shuttle exhibit opens at Kennedy Space Center in summer 2013.
International communications and IT giant Harris Corporation will expand its regional presence with a new $100-million, 450,000-sq.-ft. high-tech engineering center in Palm Bay and hire 100 workers.
Rocket Crafters Inc., a firm specializing in hybrid-rocket design and aerospace-composite technologies, is moving from Utah to Titusville, with hopes of creating as many as 1,300 full-time jobs.
Colt’s Manufacturing Company has selected Kissimmee as site of its new regional headquarters. The iconic American arms maker plans to create 60-plus manufacturing and engineering jobs.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Performing arts showplace
Opening in fall 2014, phase I of the $383-million Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando will feature a 2,700-seat auditorium for touring Broadway shows and a more intimate 300-seat theater.
It takes a village … or maybe several
Already among the three fastest growing “micropolitan” areas in the U.S., The Villages, a 26,000-acre adult community spanning three central Florida counties, expands again. Joining Market Square and Spanish Springs Town Square: a third dining/shopping venue, Brownwood Paddock Square.
Fun in the sun
World-famous, drivable Daytona Beach is 23 miles of white sand, sparkling water and free pedestrian access 24/7; cars are permitted, but only in designated areas from sunrise to sunset.
• The Boeing Company - Titusville
• Harris Corporation - Melbourne
• Lockheed Martin Corporation - Orlando
• Northrop Grumman Corporation - Orlando and Melbourne
• Raytheon Company - Orlando and Melbourne
• Siemens - Orlando and Melbourne
• American Automobile Association - Heathrow
• Darden Restaurants - Orlando
• SeaWorld - Orlando
• Universal Studios Florida - Orlando
• Walt Disney World - Orlando
• Adventist Health System - Orlando
• Orlando Health - Orlando
East Central is home base for University of Central Florida (UCF), the nation’s second largest university and renowned for its research and patent portfolio. Other top-notch educational choices here include: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, generating more pilots for major airlines than any other flight school; and Valencia College, consistently cited for conferring more associate’s degrees than any U.S. community college and 2011 recipient of the Aspen Institute Prize for Community College Excellence.