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August 19, 2018


Diane Sears | 4/1/2004

Orlando's Changing Face

With more than $836 million in construction under way, including $661 million in commercial and residential, downtown Orlando is taking its first steps toward becoming what one area developer calls "a world-class city."

"Everyone is very excited Orlando has shown the gumption to move forward," says Phil Rampy, who led the charge 10 years ago to urbanize Thornton Park, today a chic downtown neighborhood. "It's not just a city anymore in the shadow of the Mouse."

There's talk of 20,000 people living in one square mile in the next 25 years, Rampy says. "Some people think that's liberal, but I don't. I think that's a real possibility."

Meanwhile, the region will have its hands full with the following issues:

> Transportation remains a top priority. Voters last year rejected Mobility 20/20, an initiative that would have overhauled I-4 and paved the way for light rail. There's talk of a "20/20 version 2" on the horizon.

> Water is moving up the priority list. As the area's population grows, desalination of saltwater sources has been mentioned as a possible solution. "Water supply is an issue that's not so much going to strike home this year as it's working its way to the top of the list in the next decade," says Seminole County Manager Kevin Grace.

> The healthcare crisis came to a head last year when doctors threatened to leave the area because of rising insurance costs, says Maureen Brockman, vice president of marketing and communications for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. "We have a Band-Aid on it, and it's not going to go away," she says.

ORLANDO & Orange County
Major Trend: The Orlando region is poised for a boom in agrotechnology, also known as agricultural engineering or biosystems engineering, which is increasing in Florida, California and Texas. The combination of agriculture and technology is used in industrial food ingredients, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and plant reproduction, according to the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. Three central Florida companies have reported combined revenues of more than $25 million per year -- with 10% growth a year.

Business to Watch: Florida Hospital has launched a $400-million, seven-campus expansion project, its largest since opening in 1908. Plans call for new patient towers in downtown Orlando, east Orlando and Altamonte Springs, increasing its bed count by 25% and adding 2,000 jobs at the downtown campus alone. "We know central Florida is going to continue to grow at a rapid pace, and we must be prepared to meet the community's needs with the latest in healthcare technology, housed in an atmosphere that is efficient for our doctors and employees and that promotes healing for our patients," says COO Lars Houmann.

Person to Watch: As CEO and co-founder of Channel Intelligence, Rob Wight has a list of 80-plus clients, including a "who's who" of technology: Microsoft, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Palm, Xerox, 3Com, Cisco, Canon, Olympus. The company that developed patent-pending e-commerce software is expanding at its Celebration headquarters from 47 employees to more than 100 by the end of the year and 350 in 2005. "We have a really powerful team of people, and that's how the company got built up," he says. "I may have founded it, but it's not a one-man show."

LAKE MARY & Seminole County
Key Trend: High-tech companies are knocking on Seminole County's door again, signaling a renewed boom along Interstate 4 in Lake Mary. "It kind of feels the way it did in the mid-'90s," Seminole County Manager Kevin Grace says. He points to Seminole's highly rated school system and developments such as the new Colonial TownPark shopping and entertainment complex as big draws for employers looking to put roots in Lake Mary.

Business to Watch: Orlando Sanford International Inc., a private firm that manages operations at Orlando Sanford International Airport, expects to top the public facility's record of 1.5 million passengers this year, says Michael Caires, marketing/public relations manager. That's partially because charter airline Vacation Express, which moved its 250,000-passenger hub operation last year from Sanford to Atlanta, is coming back with a seven-year contract. Meanwhile, the management company had spent 2003 rebuilding the airport's offerings, which now include flights on Pan Am, Southeast, TransMeridian and Jetsgo airlines for domestic and international passengers who prefer a facility smaller than Orlando International Airport.

KISSIMMEE & Osceola County
Key Trend: A program called RED -- Real Economic Development -- rolls out the crimson carpet to attract industries that bring large numbers of high-wage jobs to Osceola. Mastermind of the program is Celebration marketing consultant David Grulich, a former Estee Lauder executive whose wife, Maria, is the county's director of economic development. "Basically what I'm doing is branding the county and economic development just like a lipstick," says David Grulich. One sector targeted: Hispanic businesses, which "provide a good fit to our growing community," where much of the population is Hispanic, Maria Grulich says.

Major Development: Local leaders are working to establish a part of Kissimmee/Osceola County as a state-designated Enterprise Zone targeted for economic revitalization. Businesses in the area that employ residents, rehabilitate property or buy equipment would receive sales tax, property tax and income tax incentives. "It could mean a better-diversified economy, high-paying jobs, attracting some manufacturing companies, some distribution companies -- and not being totally dependent on tourism," says state Rep. John Quinones, who is proposing the measure in the Legislature.

Lake County
Key Trend: Lake County is seeing a boom in healthcare businesses, including hospital campuses, physicians' offices, medical equipment distributors and other related services. Greg Mihalic, the county's director of economic development and tourism, attributes the trend to Lake's surging population and the presence of two groups that demand top-quality healthcare: Retirees and affluent residents. Lake "was somewhat of an underserved market," he says.

Business to Watch: With headquarters in Leesburg and showrooms statewide, construction service provider Bailey Industries plans to install at least 10,000 kitchens in Florida this year, says its president, Jon Reddell. The company employs 300, including about 250 in Lake County, and has averaged 40% annual growth for the past five years -- mostly because of its work with The Villages, a massive three-county development that is building 500 houses a month. Bailey specializes in cabinetry, flooring, appliances and closet organizers.

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