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Orlando & Orange County

View from Lake Eola downtown. [Photo: iStockphoto]

» Who Lives Here?

» Economic Life

» Must Know Contacts

» Quality of Life

» Strengths & Weaknesses

» Why I Live Here

While the economic downturn has clobbered Orlando and Orange County along with everyone else, there’s a sense that the area is poised for a big day in the sun. Even as tourism continues to define Orlando’s public face, the non-tourism economy — spurred on by bioscience, simulation and other high-tech sectors like photonics — should emerge from the mouse’s shadow to become the dominant economic force. A viable downtown already has emerged, expected to be crowned with a $400-million performing arts center by 2012. The University of Central Florida, now the state’s largest, has a solid and growing research capability. Orlando’s business community is smart, innovative and engaged. And the area has a well-established reputation as the chief evangelist for the gospel of regional cooperation. The creation of the Medical City bioscience cluster has given the community a heady sense of confidence in its ability to get things done.

The region will have to guard against both hubris and choking on its own success, however. Orange County grew by about 30% between 1990 and 2000 and by nearly 20% between 2000 and 2007. The question will be whether it becomes an unmanageable sprawl or grows more according to the high-minded principles articulated during a regional visioning process two years ago. Traffic is awful, and Orange County has the highest crime rate per 100,000 residents in the state. Some of the state’s best urban neighborhoods are matched by tacky subdivisions on the fringe. The concentration of jobs in construction, entertainment and tourism means recessions will continue to hit the area harder than most. The failure to begin working on a light rail system nine years ago still haunts the area, which has also been unsuccessful at consummating a state-CSX deal that would convert freight tracks to commuter rail use.

Relatively free of bad habits that old guard, established cities must overcome, Orlando has a chance of establishing itself as a model for successful, modern cities.

» Orange County

Population: 1,050,676, up 17% since 2000

51% non-Hispanic white

20% black

24% Hispanic (any race), with more than half the Latino population being Puerto Rican

» Orlando

Population: 230,519, up 24% since 2000

45.2% non-Hispanic white

30% black

21% Hispanic

» The population of Orlando is younger than the state average.

» County’s Residential Makeup

» 86% of residents are high school graduates or greater. Nearly 30% have bachelor’s degree or higher.

» 32% were born in Florida.

» 8% lived in another county or outside the state a year earlier.

» 19% were born abroad. 70% of that group were born in Latin America; nearly 20% are Asian.

» 30.5% speak a language other than English at home.

» 9% of families live below poverty level.

» With 1,000 people per square mile, Orange County is the fifth-most densely populated county in Florida.

» Incorporated Communities

» Apopka — Suburban city of about 26,000; billed as “indoor foliage capital of the world”

» Belle Isle — Small community five miles south of downtown Orlando. Median household income is $80,596.

» Eatonville — The first incorporated black town in America (1887); home of writer Zora Neale Hurston

» Maitland — Just north of Orlando, a fairly well-to-do community of 15,000 residents with older, established neighborhoods

» Ocoee — Suburban enclave west of Orlando

» Orlando — The heart of Orange County and its economic focal point

» Windermere — Most notable for being home to many sports celebrities, including Tiger Woods and Shaquille O’Neal, who live in the gated community of Isleworth

» Winter Garden — Fast-growing, middle-income suburb of about 30,000

» Winter Park — First centrally planned community in Florida; home of Rollins College and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which houses the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world. The city is famous for its swanky downtown with expensive homes.

» Income

» Median income: $50,000 — slightly higher than the statewide average of $46,600

» Reflecting suburbanization, migration patterns from 2005-06 show that the 10% of residents who left tended to have higher incomes than those arriving from other counties in Florida.

» County’s Election Results

Barack Obama: 59%

John McCain: 40%

» Consumer Behavior

» Orlandoans like to bake in the sun — not in the oven. Flour sales are below the national average, while refrigerated baked goods are above.

» A lower percentage of the county’s population smokes than in the state overall.

Florida Hospital network includes 2,800 beds.

By far, hospitality and food service remain the largest industry group in Orange County, with nearly 100,000 employees, followed by retail trade. The county’s unemployment rate has risen to 10.8% in the economic downturn — the same rate as the state’s as a whole. The steepest job loses have been in the construction industry, followed by professional and business services. The only industries growing jobs this year — and the rates are slight — are healthcare and education.

» Economic Engines

» Tourism and hospitality: Orlando has a love-hate relationship with its largest industry. Everyone knows Orlando would not be what it is without Disney, yet tourism-related wages and opportunities lag the city’s aspirations. Including the three-county metro area of Orange, Osceola and Seminole, tourism and hospitality provide 399,000 jobs, about a quarter of all employment in the area. Some 49 million visitors came to Orlando/Orange County in 2008 — the number was up slightly even though statewide tourism rates dropped 2.3% over the previous year. Industry officials estimate the visitors spent about $31 billion.

» Healthcare and life sciences: The health industry is centered around major hospital networks Florida Hospital and Orlando Health, which oversee 2,800 and 1,780 beds respectively. The sector is getting a rocket boost: The Medical City under way at Lake Nona is expected to turbo-charge biotechnology and life-sciences research and industry with the help of UCF’s College of Medicine, Burnham Institute for Medical Research, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Veterans Affairs hospital, the University of Florida research center and Orlando Health’s Cancer Research Institute. By year 10, the cluster could create 30,000 jobs with $7.6 billion in economic impact.

» Financial services and financial technology: Orlando is one of the top metros in the nation for financial services and technologies companies, with more than 50,000 workers employed by companies such as Fiserv, Harland, Metavante, Fidelity, Bank of New York Mellon, Charles Schwab and Chase. The industry also has attracted software development, data processing and information retrieval companies, of which there are more than 1,000 in the area.

» Modeling, simulation and training: Metro Orlando’s roots in military training have helped grow the region into an epicenter for modeling, simulation and training research and businesses. The sector includes the National Center of Excellence for Simulation; UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training; more than 100 companies; and nearly 17,000 workers who manufacture about $2.5 billion a year in applications from aviation and aerospace to homeland security to medical technologies. Gaming software company Electronic Arts’ Orlando facility produces some of the company’s most popular games.


» Largest Private Employers

» Walt Disney, 62,000 employees

» Florida Hospital (Adventist Health System), 16,000

» Universal Orlando, 13,000

» Orlando Regional Healthcare System, 10,000

» Lockheed Martin, 7,200

» Marriott International, 6,300

» Central Florida Investments, 6,155

» Darden Restaurants, 5,950 locally

» SeaWorld Orlando, 5,500

» Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, 5,350

» Rosen Hotels and Resorts, 4,100

» Must-Know Contacts

» Dick Batchelor, CEO of Dick Batchelor Management Group, is a former state representative who remains influential locally and statewide.

» As president of the Walt Disney World Resort, Meg Crofton oversees a workforce of nearly 62,000 employees.
» Frank Billingsley is the city’s director of economic development.

» David Brown, CEO of Broad & Cassel law firm, is a major behind-the-scenes player who had a big hand in luring Scripps Research Institute to Florida.

» Cari Haught Coats, a longtime local consultant and influential business leader, was recently named executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Rollins College.

» Kelly Cohen, principal, Southern Strategy Group, is an up-and-comer who can get most of the people on this list to return her calls.

» Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, a Republican, is being term-limited out of office and is expected to run against U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

» Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has steered downtown resurgence since he was first elected in 2003.

» Deborah German, founding dean of UCF’s College of Medicine, has been in town only three years but impressed people with her work to build a med school from scratch, raising enough money to fund full-ride scholarships for the entire first class.

» James Seneff Jr. is chairman and CEO of CNL Financial Group and a major political fund raiser.
» Ray Gilley is president and CEO of the Metro Orlando EDC.

» University of Central Florida President John Hitt played a key role in steering the school’s new med school to the Med City complex at Lake Nona.

» Lars Houmann, president and CEO of Florida Hospital, is active in the state’s growing biotechnology sector.

» Hal Kantor, partner, Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, is a well-known land-use attorney and leader in philanthropic efforts such as United Arts of Central Florida.

» Harris Rosen is president and CEO of Rosen Resorts and a major philanthropist who gave UCF $18 million to build its School of Hospitality Management.
» Margot Knight, president and CEO of United Arts, has a close relationship with the business community.

» Fred Leonhardt, a partner at GrayRobinson law firm, is a well-respected leader at both the local and statewide level.

» Marcos Marchena, senior partner in the law firm of Marchena and Graham, chairs the Hispanic Leadership Council for Florida Republicans and the Florida Transportation Commission.

» Harold Mills is CEO of labor contractor ZeroChaos.

» Philip C. Rampy and business partner Craig Ustler get much of the credit for redeveloping downtown neighborhoods such as Lake Eola and Thornton Park.

» Clarence Otis runs Darden, one of the two Fortune 500 companies in Orlando.”
» Jacob Stuart, president of the Central Florida Partnership, is a highly respected community-builder whose family has lived in the region for generations.

» Rasesh “Sesh” Thakkar is senior managing director of Tavistock Group.

» Al Weiss worked his way up to president of worldwide operations for Disney parks. He also is known for his charity work.

» Amenities

Rendering: Dr. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center
» In addition to the Orlando Magic, the area is sports-rich in other ways. It has more than 100 golf courses and a number of high-profile golf tournaments, including the Tavistock Cup and the PGA’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Football Club Orlando is working to build a $50-million soccer complex near Winter Garden.

» Aside from theme parks, kid-friendly amenities include the Orlando Science Center, with the largest publicly accessible refractor telescope in Florida.

» The area, headwaters to the Everglades, has more than 2,000 springs, rivers and lakes. The spring-fed Wekiva, a tributary of the St. Johns, is a rare wild river in an urban area.

» Health

» Orlando and Orange County generally rank in the average range in state-collected health data. A few notables: The county’s population is much less likely than state average to get a flu shot. Trends are good in coronary heart disease death rates and lung and breast cancer death rates. The county has a higher than state average rate of hospitalization for stroke, and the death rate from stroke is higher than the state average. The rate of HIV and AIDS cases reported is higher than the state average; for chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea, it’s much higher. The county fares worse than state averages in the number of dentists and licensed hospital beds.

» Government

Florida TaxWatch cited a number of Orlando city and Orange County agencies for notable practices in 2008, including a city business assistance team and revitalization project and a county mapping project to increase emergency preparedness.

» Taxes

Among Florida county governments, Orange County ranks 16th in total taxes levied per capita.

» Arts

Due to the presence of the theme parks, the county is rich in performers and artists. United Arts, a non-profit created by the business community, funds nearly 40 organizations and as many artists in the community. The 20-year-old organization is the sixth-largest United Arts fund in the country. Construction of a $400-million Dr. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center, with space for concerts, theater, ballet and education, is expected to be complete by 2012. The county is home to a number of museums, including the Orlando Museum of Art, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, the Orlando Science Center, the Mennello Museum of American Folk Art and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.

» Schools

The county district is rated “A”overall and has a lower than state average dropout rate. The district has lower than state average pass rates on grade 10 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, however.

» Crime

Drugs and an increasingly violent street culture helped lead to more serious crime over the past five years, including a record 123 murders last year. With more than 6,500 crimes per 100,000 residents, Orange County had the state’s highest crime rate in 2008. Violent crime numbers have dropped significantly in the first half of 2009, however, in part because of an effort to put more officers on the streets and move them quickly to crime hot spots.

» Downtown

» A $1.1-billion plan is bringing a new Orlando Magic arena, Citrus Bowl renovations and a new performing arts center to the heart of downtown. Publix opened a long-sought supermarket downtown last year.

Construction of the $480-million Amway Center, future home of the Orlando Magic.

» Strengths

» Travel: Orlando may be the most convenient place to get to and from in Florida. Orlando International Airport is the busiest airport in the state, carrying some 35 million passengers a year. Its largest carrier is Southwest, followed by AirTran, whose headquarters is in Orlando. If you’re driving, Orlando is halfway between Miami, 250 miles southeast, and Tallahassee, 230 miles northwest.

Orlando International Airport
» Higher education: More than 26% of the population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 22% statewide. The University of Central Florida is now the fifth-largest in the nation, with more than $122 million in research funding, more than 50,000 students and an international reputation for lasers/optics and hospitality. Its first med school class started school this fall. Rollins College is the oldest college in the state and consistently ranked one of the best regional private campuses in the South. Forbes ranked its MBA program the best in Florida. Full Sail University is emerging as a top school for film, entertainment and digital media, with a 60-studio multimedia complex and direct links to the burgeoning private industry sector.

» Communities: Orlando has some of the most charming, genuine communities in Florida, a well-kept secret from the millions of tourists who flock to the theme parks. Among the best is Winter Park, a tree-shaded, 1880s hamlet anchored by Rollins College on one side and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art on the other, with sidewalk cafes and shops in between. Other established communities in Orlando include College Park, Thornton Park, Delaney Park and downtown, a vibrant, young place to live with good restaurants and bars, art shows and a weekend farmers market.

» Orlando was named one of top 15 best cities for singles and top 50 for families by Worldwide ERC and Primacy Relocation.

» Weaknesses

» Lack of Fortune 500 companies: Only two Orlando companies are on the Fortune 500, and one of them, International Assets Holding Corp. (Nasdaq-IAAC), an Altamonte Springs-based brokerage company with revenue of more than $18.3 billion, employs only 195. Darden Restaurants (NYSE-DRI), the restaurant operator with annual revenue of more than $6.7 billion, employs 179,000, many in low-wage jobs at its restaurants around the nation. The lack of major headquarters makes Orlando a rung rather than a long-term destination for many executives on their way up the corporate ladder.

Plans for SunRail have stalled in the Legislature.
» Commuters lose more than two days of their lives — about 53 hours a year — stuck in traffic jams, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, which reports that Orlando ties for sixth-worst in the nation for traffic gridlock. The commuter rail transit project SunRail, which would run along a 61-mile stretch of existing rail freight tracks in the four-county area, is tied up in the Florida Legislature. SunRail backers’ latest strategy is to link up their proposal to a high-speed train.

» Between 2007-08, both the number of auto crashes and the county’s crash rate fell. The traffic fatality rate fell by 7.3% during that period.

 Terence Delahunty Jr.
» Why I Live Here

I moved to Orlando when I graduated from UF law school in 1983. Prior to that, I, like many others, had only experienced Orlando through its theme parks. The area has spent enormous efforts overcoming misunderstanding/bias associated with that perception. These efforts have succeeded with the increasing influence of UCF, the Medical City complex at Lake Nona and other high-tech industries now located in Orlando.

I was born in Manhattan and spent my early years in White Plains, a suburb of N.Y.C. My family moved to south Florida in the late ’60s, and we watched in amazement how Broward County exploded in growth.

After finishing law school, I was not interested in dealing with the overpopulation and lifestyle of south Florida, so I limited my choices to Orlando and Jacksonville. I am very happy I did, as the quality of life my family has is very high.

I work in downtown Orlando and live less than a mile away in a 70-year-old, wood-frame, two-story house on a quiet brick street in a traditional neighborhood known as Thornton Park. My children all went through St. James elementary school, which is just across Lake Eola from my office.

A benefit of Orlando is that it is not tradition-bound and is very welcoming to new residents. I have been heavily involved in community matters since I arrived.

Terence J. Delahunty Jr.
Shareholder / GrayRobinson

Barb Scherer

» Why I Live Here

After living in Tampa and New York, I believe the thing that makes Orlando so special is the spirit of the community. There is a passion and commitment to make Orlando even better and more competitive on both the national and international levels. I’ve always told people I love it here because Orlando is such a “livable” city — it has beautiful historic neighborhoods with lots of lakes, open spaces and cobblestone streets all within minutes to the downtown core, plus a pristine, clean appearance compared to most other big cities. Combine that with an easy driving distance to the beaches, a warmer climate, lots of outdoor activities, sports, affordable housing and overall lower cost of living, and it’s the perfect recipe for an energetic, happy life.

Barb Scherer
President / Engauge

» View from a Competitor

Florida Trend asked an economic development professional in a market that competes with Orlando to assess anonymously the city’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Orlando is a city that retains its very positive image of a city on the go. It has made some particularly strong collaborative efforts in the area of life sciences, which has become well known around the state and the nation. Orlando still suffers from its image as a tourist community with lower-than-average wages and substantial traffic congestion. Only part of the negative is true, as the progress on high-wage, high-technology job development efforts has been excellent.”