Laying the Foundation in Orlando
There’s a saying that overnight success is generally 20 years in the making. That’s certainly true for most really important accomplishments, especially in the field of economic development.
For the Orlando Economic Development Commission (EDC), it’s actually 37 years in the making, during which time the organization has played a catalytic role in most of the region’s largest economic deals. Among these projects are the 1987 establishment of the headquarters for the American Automobile Association (AAA), Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems’ power generation service hub in 2001 and Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute’s move to Lake Nona in 2007.
And the best is truly ahead – because of the work that’s being done right now to lay the foundation for future success.
Attract, Retain, Grow
Few people know just who the EDC is (we’re a not-for-profit organization made up of some of the region’s top public officials and most of the region’s top businesses) and even fewer really know the role we play in bringing new economic development to the area. With a mission to attract, retain and grow jobs for the region, the EDC stands ready to assist growing companies in all aspects of locating to or expanding within the Orlando area – from finding the sites/facilities to navigating the state’s approval processes to connecting companies with education and industry leaders to providing general guidance and information about the region’s assets and resources.
Since 1977, the EDC has been facilitating conversations with in- and out-of-area key business leaders about what Orlando offers and marketing the region as a premier location for business. These efforts have paid huge dividends and resulted in more than 176,700 jobs announced and $9.5 billion in capital investment in the region.
While the EDC’s early focus encouraged job growth broadly, more recent efforts have concentrated on five higher-wage industries with a growing stronghold in the region: Advanced Technologies; Business Services; Film & Digital Media; Life Sciences & Health Care; and Aviation, Aerospace & Defense.
Collaboration and Partnership
Economic development is really a team sport and the EDC recognizes it can’t do this important work alone. To strengthen regional cooperation and better engage our community economic development partners from our four-county region and the City of Orlando, the EDC created the Regional Economic Developers (RED) Team in 2011. This important practitioner group meets monthly to collaborate on specific ED projects and cooperate on long-term strategy and program planning.
This close collaboration is critical. The EDC recognizes that working together is really the only way to get things done. It’s through partnership that the EDC successfully competes for projects that will bring in quality jobs and tax base to our region.
But no community or region can thrive without a good workforce and a skilled talent pipeline. Time and again, Orlando is selected for projects because of the quality and quantity of its workforce, educational opportunities and programs to meet companies’ needs.
Talent is what led Verizon Communications to build its new Center of Excellence for finance and accounting in Lake Mary, which celebrated its grand opening earlier this year. The company initially planned to create 750 jobs but increased its announced employment to 1,100 because it was so impressed with the quality of the workforce.
One of the biggest draws for Verizon was the educational opportunities for its current and future workforce. Seminole State College, for example, worked with Verizon officials to create a specialized accounting program. All of this was made possible because of partnerships, but none of it happened overnight. While the actual deals seem to happen at once, the planning, the preparation and the partnering is a long-term and never ending process.
While growth and progress may seem to happen in spurts, the foundation upon which it is based requires a longer view. It’s about working hard every day to prepare for anticipated opportunities. It’s about marshaling our region’s human and material resources into a compelling value proposition. It’s about having the patience to persevere and succeed.
Rick L. Weddle is the president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission.