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Central Florida Economic Indicators

Medical City steams ahead, and work on the first phase of the 61-mile SunRail commuter line will provide an economic boost. Meanwhile, Osceola welcomes a regional headquarters of Colt Manufacturing.

Central Florida

Orlando/Orange County

Nemours Children's Hospital at Lake Nona will open this year. [Photo: Nemours Childrens's Hospitatl]

Orlando posted strong gains in tourism last year, helping to push Disney share prices up by 11% since the beginning of 2011.[Photo: Disney]
Tourism remains the centerpiece of the region's economy. After rebounding in 2011, the hospitality sector will be hard-pressed to outperform this year but could hit new levels if the national economy continues to strengthen and streamlined international travel standards announced by the federal government bear fruit. Visit Orlando forecasts the total visitor count to central Florida will rise to 55 million with strength from Brazil and other international markets. Major hotels are in the works, with the nearly 2,000-room Art of Animation at Walt Disney World opening in four phases, beginning with a Finding Nemo wing in May. Disney, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld all are adding attractions this year.

Residential construction remains the weakest contributor to the region's economy, and modest growth is forecast for the coming year. But healthcare, education and science-related development in the Lake Nona area of east Orange is creating hundreds of jobs. Two major facilities open this year: The University of Florida's Research and Academic Center followed by Nemours Children's Hospital. Work on the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center continues, but construction problems have pushed the completion date to 2013.

SunRail will stop at 17 stations from Osceola to Volusia. [Photo: SunRail]
First-phase work also is under way for the SunRail commuter train system, which will run through Orlando and Orange County with stops in Volusia, Seminole and Osceola. At each of the 17 stations along the 61-mile route, opportunities for retail, service and residential development are being explored.

And power could shine this year. NAI Realvest in Orlando, one of central Florida's largest integrated commercial real estate companies, launched a site-selection team for alternative-energy projects after getting interest from potential clients. Waste-to-energy and biomass have potential, but solar-panel costs are dropping so fast that even without subsidies solar looks poised to surprise on the upside, says George Livingston, NAI's chairman.

Businesses to Watch

» Darden Restaurants: Orlando's only Fortune 500 company is investing heavily in its Olive Garden brand.

Darden Headquarters
Darden's Orlando headquarters [Photo: Alex Stafford]

» Wyndham Vacation Ownership: The timeshare company is leasing the 300,000-sq.-ft. former Harcourt-Brace headquarters and plans to invest $24.7-million in the property and fill more than 230 jobs during the next three years.

» ZeroChaos: The fast-growing staffing and back-office service outfit in Orlando, bought by a New York private equity firm last year for more than $200 million, is expanding its national reach after acquiring controlling interest in workforce management company WorkforceLogic in San Francisco.

People to Watch

Gina Duncan
» Teresa Jacobs: The Orange County mayor must keep the SunRail commuter project on track.

» Gina Duncan: The transgender leader of the 250-member gay business chamber is running for a seat on the Orange County Commission.

» Craig Ustler: The developer heads the major downtown redevelopment effort of the former Amway Arena and Centroplex property called Creative Village.

Orange Population: 1,192,551
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.68%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
19.29% 7.10% 32.22% 31.34% 10.05%
Per Capita Income: $37,879


MSA Dec. 2011 Dec. 2010 % Change Jobless Rate
Orlando/Kissimmee/Sanford 1,008,325 996,137 +1.2% 9.5%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes - Single-family, existing-home sales
MSA 2011 Sales 1-Year Change 2011 Price 1-Year Change
Orlando 27,400 +2% $125,200 -5%
Source: Florida Realtors; year-end sales, median price

Orange County Consumer Bankruptcies
2010 2011 Change
8,389 7,136 -14.9%
Source: National Bankruptcy Research Center

Lake Mary/Sanford/Seminole County

The 118-foot, 3,500-year-old tree known as "The Senator" burned earlier this year. [Photo: Joe Burbank]
The strategic plan for economic development crafted in 2011 by a task force of more than two dozen business leaders calls for the business community to shoulder more leadership. Part of the challenge is to balance the need for boosting the ratio of jobs to residents while preserving the county's quality of life. Seminole's motto is "Florida's Natural Choice," and eco-tourism has long been a significant economic contributor — a park in Longwood, for example, was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929. A towering, 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree in the park became a symbol of the fragility of the ecosystem when it burned to the ground in January. The loss of the cypress — one of the world's largest — devastated many who grew up visiting it and sparked calls for more protection of the area's natural resources.

Seminole's highly regarded school system and cities are making do with less again this year. Sanford fears another decrease of $1 million or more in property tax collections, but the community is benefiting from downtown revitalization efforts. Lake Mary and Winter Springs are helped by their proximity to the University of Central Florida's campuses and high-tech developments.

Businesses to Watch

» Convergys: The management solutions company, with about 1,800 employees, says it will add another 414 customer service and technical support positions at its Lake Mary center this year.

Seminole Population: 439,890
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.37%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.07% 7.02% 27.06% 35.11% 12.73%
Per Capita Income: $46,014


Kissimmee/Osceola County

Osceola County sealed a deal that pays off this year as Colt Manufacturing opens a regional headquarters and begins filling more than 60 jobs paying an average of about $45,000. The weapons maker is investing $2.5 million in return for rent concessions and $250,000 from a state incentive fund.

Says County Commission Chairman John Quiñones: "Attracting an American icon like Colt ... is a real coup for our economic development efforts." AES Inc., an Indiana company that overhauls electronics, weapons systems and accessories for the military and prime contractors, also announced it will move to Osceola, bringing 20 jobs paying an average of $60,526. Look for more relocation interest driven in part by the local expansion of Valencia College and its reputation for workforce education. The college is designing specialized training courses for Colt.

Tourism continues to gain importance, and Fun Spot Action Park in Kissimmee is expanding, while agriculture struggles with citrus pests, competition and higher costs.

Osceola Population: 289,736
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 2.57%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
20.93% 8.27% 26.89% 32.56% 11.36%
Per Capita Income: $27,688


Lake County

With its economy driven in recent years mostly by residential development, Lake County took a severe hit with the collapse in construction and housing prices, but the county's other main source of income — transfer payments to retirees — has been a stabilizing factor.

Now both are poised to grow as residential construction gradually picks up, mainly in the Villages development. Leesburg, the county's largest city, hopes to regain momentum and grow jobs by developing a Florida Energy and Aerospace Park near Florida's Turnpike

Lake Population: 314,977
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.77%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.02% 5.75% 19.91% 32.42% 24.90%
Per Capita Income: $35,205