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Orange County launches a tech offensive

Three years ago, Orange County Public Schools used a pilot program to distribute 8,000 computers to students at three of its 126 elementary schools, three of its 35 middle schools and one high school.

The pilot included not just laptops, but also notebooks, tablets and other equipment, and an assortment of operating systems, including iOS and Windows.

Eager to avoid the experience of the Los Angeles Unified School District, where a botched plan to rush iPads into the hands of every student ultimately cost the superintendent his job, the Orange County district proceeded carefully — after a year it expanded the program incrementally to a few more schools.

Then, this summer, the county announced that it distributed nearly 75,000 computers to students. That includes a computer for every high school student — making Orange County the first district in central Florida to achieve that milestone and, county officials say, the first big urban district in the state.

There are still textbooks in the classrooms, but students no longer have to lug them to and from school.

“I think we have been shocked at how smooth and seamless it’s been,” says Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette.

The $250-million project, which has been dubbed “LaunchED,” will continue to grow; Orange County hopes to have computers distributed to all of its roughly 200,000 students within the next five years. The county is paying for the project through general fund money earmarked for textbooks and through a half-cent sales tax for capital spending that local voters agreed to extend in a 2014 referendum.

“Many of our students do not have laptops at home, and so now we have put the tools in the hands of all of our students, leveling that playing field,” says Leigh Ann Bradshaw, Orange County’s executive area director for high schools.


» Andrea Massey- Farrell, senior vice president at pestcontrol company Massey Services, will be the next chairwoman of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.

Business Briefs

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CLERMONT — USA Canoe/ Kayak will hold its 2017 national championship at the city’s Waterfront Park on Lake Minneola.

COCOA BEACH — Cross-Brands Manufacturing will open a 75,000-sq.-ft. facility to resume production of Sea & Ski sunblock, once the top-selling suntan lotion in the country.

LAKE MARY — Faro Technologies, which develops 3-D measurement technology, bought Londonberry, N.H.-based Laser Protection Technologies.

» AT&T leased 30,000 square feet of office space to house 180 employees.

LONGWOOD — Winter Park-based developer Alexander Investments International is redeveloping a longabandoned community golf course into a 286-unit apartment complex.

OCOEE — City commissioners approved a site plan for a large mixed-use project that will include a hotel, nearly 300 condo units and more than 170,000 square feet of retail space.

ORANGE COUNTY — Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando began distributing free inspect repellent to visitors amid rising concerns about the Zika virus. Meanwhile, Disney World will drain and fill in a 330,000-gallon pool at its River Country water park, abandoned since Disney closed it in 2002.

ORLANDO — Los Angeles-based video game designer Particle City, which is backed by Respawn Entertainment, plans to open an Orlando studio, which will develop a series of mobile games around the Titanfall franchise. The company says it expects to create 17 jobs over the next three years. » The University of Central Florida pushed back the planned opening of its downtown campus by one year, to August 2019. Meanwhile, the university’s private fundraising foundation set a goal of raising $500 million — some of which will pay for the downtown campus — by June 2019. » Ronald McDonald House opened an $8-million home adjacent to Nemours Children’s Hospital, the charity’s third housing facility in Orlando.

» Asurion, a Nashville-based insurer of mobile devices, opened a 50,000-sq.-ft. call center in Orlando with plans to hire 350 employees.

SEMINOLE COUNTY — After a successful citizens’ petition drive, county commissioners approved new regulations for greyhound tracks, including mandatory injury reporting, disposal reporting and animal licensing. The county has one track: Penn National Gaming’s Sanford Orlando Kennel Club.

SUMTER COUNTY — State economists expect the county’s total taxable property value will grow by nearly 55% over the next five years, the fastest rate in the state.

WINTER GARDEN — A developer plans to build a threestory building with apartments and commercial space in the small city’s burgeoning downtown area.