How Orlando is improving its transportation infrastructure through technology

How Orlando is improving its transportation infrastructure through technology

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read  — Public transportation is a vital contributing element to urban sustainability. Practical transportation networks that integrate public travel can help lower a city’s per capita carbon footprint. It also makes metropolitan areas more livable by easing commute times and expanding accessibility. Over the last few decades, technology has played a critical role in the evolution of transportation. Transportation technologies most often tackle challenges involving alternative fuels, demographic shifts, traffic analytics, safety and security. 



Almost 300,000 people live in Orlando and an estimated 75 million people visit the city every year, according to Visit Orlando. These figures are just part of the reason why Orlando has issues with its transportation system. Among companies tackling these challenges is Omnimodal LLC, an interdisciplinary team of mobility tech experts that has created smart mobility management solutions to ease congestion by helping to make public transportation easier to navigate. 


“Let’s say you live over by Orlando Health, but you work in Winter Park. You have to take a bus or catch a bike share to get to the [train] station. You’re having to possibly download the Lynx bus tracker app. You have to download whatever scooter or bike-share app you want to use. Then you have to download the SunRail app. They all possibly have separate payment interfaces as well. The future here is how do we integrate things to let folks download whatever app they want? Let’s allow the data to flow and have interoperable payment options, so folks use what’s going to work best for them. Otherwise, you have 16 apps on your phone that you’re kind of playing bingo with to figure out,” David Thomas Moran, CEO of Omnimodal LLC, told Orlando Business Journal.

Beep, a driverless and electric shuttle, is another company making big changes within Orlando’s transportation industry. The company uses key hardware and software to enhance safety, sustainability and mobility. Not having a human driver may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, but it is actually quite common and effective. Beep believes that its technology eliminates human error when it comes to driving. The shuttle is equipped with scanners, sensors and cameras that make its reactions similar to a human driver but without having to worry about the human distractions. As for sustainability, it’s electric-powered motor makes it extremely environmentally friendly. “Look at the passenger count we had, which was 14,000 riders, equivalent to 7,000-9,000 cars off the road. That starts to show the impact these vehicles can have in not only eliminating road congestion and removing or reducing parking requirements but also impacting safety,” Joe Moye, CEO of Beep, told Orlando Business Journal. 


As transportation continues to be transformed, safety will always be a top priority. Autonomous vehicles will reduce the reality of human error which is the cause of 85% of all accidents on roadways. Improved safety is a result when combined with a reduction of cars on the roadways due to this mobility service, according to Beep’s Mobility Platform. 


Undoubtedly, technology will continue to impact the way people commute. Today, travelers are demanding more and more mobility alternatives. A city’s sustainability relies deeply on the different ways it’s able to offer transportation for its community. To ensure a region’s success and growth, metropolitan areas must continue to find more effective solutions to increase the overall quality of their transportation services.


The Post-Pandemic City

The Post-Pandemic City

By: Abby Melone, President & CEO, Capital Analytics

It’s a truism in today’s hyper-connected world that people go where the jobs are, more so now than ever before. But what happens when your job suddenly can be done from anywhere?


The 19th century ushered in the first and second Industrial Revolutions that saw more and more people move to urban environments, precisely because that’s where the jobs were. In the United States, the rise of manufacturing opened a new world of employment possibilities, pushing people from the farm to the factory. It’s a push that in one way or another continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. The result is seen today in the population densities that cram big cities from coast to coast, border to border.

According to the United Nations’ World Urbanization Prospects report and the website Our World in Data, the world crossed over in 2007. That’s the fist year the number of people living in urban areas rose above the number living in rural areas (3.35 billion versus 3.33 billion). In the United States, around 82.3% of the population lives in urban areas, according to the World Bank. Growth trajectories project a steady increase in urbanization as far out as 2050. 

Today, the millennial generation is changing the character of urbanization by spearheading the live-work-play ethos. This generation prefers to skirt the traffic jams and live and play near where they work. The goal to have it all close by has given rise to the mixed-use building concept that puts everything – your living options, your entertainment choices and your shopping – all in one convenient location, which preferably, is near your workplace. 

It also means we are all living closer to each other in smaller and smaller spaces. That seemed to suit a lot of people just fine. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and all of sudden, none of that seemed fine at all.

The pandemic resulted in shelter-in-place orders that forced people to live 24 hours a day in their homes while also working from their home offices, if they had one, or their kitchen tables if they didn’t. The very idea of needing to go somewhere else to do your job turned out to be not so much of a necessity after all. In just a few months, priorities appear to have shifted. Now, many of us seem to crave space, the great outdoors, and we seem to be split 50-50 on whether we want to continue working from home, wherever we choose that to be, or prefer an official office setting, mostly for the socializing.

There is little doubt that the world has changed as a result of the pandemic. Most experts are puzzling on whether that change will last and just what our cities will look like as a result. The fact is, though, that change was already in play before COVID-19 hit.

My company focuses on nine major U.S. markets like Orlando, Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia. We talk to industry and political leaders to understand the issues their communities face to gauge the direction in which they are moving. Today, everyone is talking about the pandemic’s impact on the retail sector, for example. Yet, e-commerce was already a thing before COVID-19. In 2019, a record 9,800 stores were shuttered, according to a Bloomberg report, with 25,000 closures expected in 2020 due to the coronavirus impact, the report said, citing Coresight Research. Yes, that’s a devastating impact, but the pandemic really has only accelerated the pace of implementation. It pushed more people online immediately, but those people were likely headed there anyway.

Many of the leaders we have spoken with during the pandemic agree that retail and commercial real estate was already undergoing a slowdown as industrial space to accommodate last-mile delivery for the Amazons of the world was booming. Many expect this trend will continue.

More importantly, what the pandemic has done has caused a rethink of priorities among individuals and it is this impact that will likely shape the post-pandemic city. Living in lockdown awakened people to the “smallness” of their space, forced on them by a combination of convenience and higher and higher housing prices in big cities. The median listing price for a home in Miami-Dade, for example, was $465,050 in May compared to the average U.S. listing price of $329,950, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Interestingly, population growth in Miami-Dade was already slowing as more people moved out, with escalating living costs among the factors. With the pandemic highlighting the risks of living so close together, will more people decide that farther away is not only cheaper, but safer?

Big city living will change in the post-pandemic world as social distancing forces “people places” like gyms and restaurants to accommodate lingering fears from the virus. Tens of thousands of small businesses have already closed down for good, clearly altering the very unique characteristics of cities that attracted people in the first place.

The biggest impact, however, will be on how – and where – jobs are done. Remote working is hear to stay in some form or another. Like the industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, people will always go where the jobs are. For many, those jobs will now be done from home, which means that home can be virtually anywhere. It creates choice like never before, and this will dramatically alter the character, although not likely the course, of urbanization. That’s an important difference. 

Big cities have seen the ebbs and flows of population growth before and will likely see them again. Through it all, they have more often thrived than not. The post-pandemic city may look and feel a bit different – the way condo units are built, for example, may change to accommodate working from home, while adding elements like air filters to battle any future virus outbreak – and there may even be a greater push to the suburbs in the short term. Overall, however, continued urbanization likely will remain on the cards. If we’re lucky, there may just be a little more distance between all of us.


Orlando scores a win for its tourism sector

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read June 2020 — Hospitality leaders and sports fans alike are cheering for the Central Florida region as the city of Orlando prepares to score a major win for its embattled tourism sector this summer. 


 Orlando will be the epicenter of professional sports this July as both the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer set up camp at Disney’s ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in an effort to resume their respective seasons following the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Earlier this month, Major League Soccer announced plans to restart the 2020 season with all 26 clubs competing in the “MLS is Back Tournament,” a month-long World Cup-style tournament set to begin on July 8. The tournament, which will be played without fans in attendance, allows the league to salvage its 25th season. 

“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber, according to a press release. “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches and staff as we return to play,” he said. 

In similar fashion, NBA fans will cheer for their favorite team from afar as players, coaches and staff settle in Orlando for the coming months. A 22-team NBA season is set to resume on July 31 with the playoffs slated to end in early October.  

Though the different games will be played without fans in attendance, these major sporting events will likely introduce visitors to the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex, further solidifying Orlando’s penchant for holding world-class events while helping mitigate the immediate impact of the coronavirus on Orlando’s hospitality and tourism industry. 

“Event organizers are familiar with Orlando as a destination, but for the public, they’ll learn an awful lot about what a wonderful venue the Wide World of Sports is,” Greater Orlando Sports Commission President and Chief Executive Officer Jason Siegel said, according to Front Office Sports. “It enhances the already great perception of the community for when we have the next conversations with FIFA as it relates to the World Cup or the bids we’ve put out for the 2022 to 2026 NCAA championship events. It just lends itself to an already robust portfolio of hosting marquee events,” he said.


Since March, 13 events have been canceled and not rescheduled, according to Front Office Sports, while another seven have been postponed, costing the region more than $49 million in economic impact. 

Another estimate by Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond showed that tourism and development tax dollars dropped 97 percent in March, according to WKMG News 6. Diamond’s report said last year in March, the county collected nearly $27 million in tourism and development tax dollars. This March, less than $800,000 was collected, WKMG News 6 reported. 

Hoteliers and theme park officials are also rooting for the success of the region’s tourism sector. Hotels and parks are beginning to open up after more than three months of closures and severe layoffs and furloughs. 

Major parks like SeaWorld, Universal, and Islands of Adventures are operating under limited capacity and following the CDC guidelines, while Disney World is expected to begin its phased opening in July. “We are seeing the impact slowly coming back,” Visit Orlando CEO and President George Aguel told WKMG News 6. “Seeing Universal kicking off, SeaWorld following and naturally Disney coming into their own in July is big news.”


Spotlight On: Tom Slagle, CEO, Rasmussen College

Spotlight On: Tom Slagle, CEO, Rasmussen College

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read June 2020 —With a history spanning more than 119 years, Rasmussen College is well-positioned and experienced in adjusting to unforeseen circumstances like the current pandemic the world is working to eradicate. CEO Tom Slagle spoke to Invest: Orlando about the school’s advantage as a leader in online education for over 20 years. He also spoke about the school being welcomed by the community in Orlando as one of the newest entrants into the local higher education sector. 


How is Rasmussen College positioned in Florida?

Rasmussen has been around since 1900. Rasmussen College acquired Webster College with campuses in Holiday and Ocala, Florida, in 2004. These campuses were merged into the Rasmussen College system in 2007. Later, the college expanded into Fort Myers, Tampa and Orlando. Overall, we have campuses in six states and a national online team serving more than 17,000 students. Healthcare education is a strength for the college, particularly licensure-required fields such as nursing. We are the largest producer of ADN (first licensure) nurses in the country and also offer a bachelor’s (BSN) and master’s in nursing (MSN) and soon a doctoral (DNP). We pride ourselves on providing affordable degrees and a student support network with individualized services. Our primary target market is the adult learner seeking to advance or change their career, more so than the traditional high-school graduate. 


What role does the school play in the Orlando education sector?

We are excited about our new campus in Orlando. We believe we pinpointed some real gaps in the local education market. Our healthcare portfolio is a great fit, and our offerings in business, technology and social services are also in strong demand. The opportunity to provide affordable and relevant credentials that employers are seeking from graduates is where we excel. Our goal is always to be deeply engaged in the communities in which we live and work, this is why we believe in our local campus network. Our programs offer tremendous flexibility with many fully online, but they also provide the campus-based learning environments necessary for labs and simulations. We have been welcomed by the employer community in Orlando and have developed strong relationships with the local healthcare institutions, which support our graduating students with employment opportunities. We want Orlando to become one of our larger campuses in Florida over the next three to five years.


How has COVID-19 impacted the college?

We have been an online leader in education for almost 20 years, so we know how to educate students in an online environment. It is not always simple to incorporate the proper content, curriculum, experience and assessment criteria on a digital platform, but fortunately, we have a lot of experience in that field. As an example, all of our nursing simulation, which typically takes place on campus or at clinical sites, was moved to an online environment, allowing no disruption to our nursing students’ educational journey or graduation. Also, we have seen that individuals displaced by the current environment want to build on their knowledge and competencies to better prepare themselves for the current and future workforce. We made the decision to support our communities by providing our eRasmussen Professional Certificates portfolio ( at no cost. We’ve had nearly 9,000-course registrants for the professional certificates so far. We have also sought ways to support our communities by donating much of our PPE to local healthcare organizations to ensure their readiness during this pandemic.


Which industries are driving the strongest demand for educational programs in Orlando right now?

Healthcare is probably top of the list, but we are also seeing strength in areas like technology and other business-related programs. Many applicants are looking for short-term certification to improve their options once they rejoin the workforce. Our Early Childhood Education portfolio also continues to perform well. Our model allows us to serve a segment of the population that has traditionally been underserved by other institutions. We are tremendously optimistic about the breadth of opportunities in the Orlando market.


What does the future hold for Rasmussen College in Florida?

With the economy potentially moving into a short-term recession, education tends to be countercyclical. As individuals are out of work, they look for ways to position themselves in a competitive market with enhanced skills to get a better job. There are also many people looking to make career changes, and we can help with that and make our local communities stronger. Our enrollment rate has continued to grow, and we believe that demand for our programs will remain strong given the unique experience Rasmussen provides our students. 


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2020 Hurricane season in the face of coronavirus

2020 Hurricane season in the face of coronavirus

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020—A few days shy of the official start of the 2020 hurricane season and the Southeast has already seen two named tropical storms. Tropical Storm Arthur brought inclement weather to the Carolinas a full two weeks before the June 1 start date and on Wednesday Tropical Storm Bertha formed quickly in the morning and drenched South Carolina before dissipating to a depression, all in a day’s notice. 


As the country reels from the devastating effects of the coronavirus, states on the East Coast can expect an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, according to forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. States like Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas can expect a 60 percent chance of having an above-normal hurricane season with a likelihood of three to six major hurricanes making landfall. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, peaking in August and September.

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to have 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes, according to the National Weather Service. As states juggle coronavirus-related safety concerns with the reopening of their economies, state leaders urge residents to begin their preparation and evacuation plans early while emphasizing the importance of hygiene and keeping in mind social distancing measures. “This early season storm reminds us that we always need to be prepared for severe weather,” North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said during the formation of Tropical Storm Arthur, which set off tropical storm warnings along the North Carolina coast from Surf City north to Duck. “The time to prepare is now,” Sprayberry said.  

COVID-19 may put a damper on the way residents traditionally prepare for the months-long season. “Social distancing and other CDC guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more. With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now,” said Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA, according to the National Weather Service. “Natural disasters won’t wait, so I encourage you to keep COVID-19 in mind when revising or making your plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets.”

In Florida, a magnet for constant hurricane activity throughout the season, leaders are strategizing on how to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the midst of a hurricane threat.      “We don’t know how the virus is going to react as we move into these various stages,”Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference in Sarasota, according to the U.S News & World Report.  “We don’t know what it’s going to look like a month from now, three months from now, but we have to assume that it’s going to be with us in some capacity, so how do you deal with hurricane issues?” he said. 

Days before the official start to hurricane season, Florida has reported more than 52,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 2,300 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center. “This virus really thrives and transmits when you have close sustained contact with people inside an enclosed environment,” DeSantis said. “As you’re looking at sheltering for a hurricane, you have to keep that in mind. If you pile people into a place, under normal circumstances that may be fine, but that would potentially allow the virus to really spread if somebody is in fact infected,” he said.  

Florida leaders are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on changes to sheltering and evacuation procedures to account for the coronavirus implications. Florida emergency management Director Jared Moskowitz said those changes could include shelters that only accept people infected with the coronavirus, or shelter in place orders depending on the strength of the building and magnitude of the storm. “We’re going to do more non-congregate sheltering instead of mass congregate sheltering,” Moskowitz said.

In similar fashion, Georgia leaders and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency urged all Georgians to prepare and follow activity in the tropics. Tropical Storm Arthur did not cause too much impact as it curved away from the Peach State while traveling through the Atlantic Ocean. Though unfazed by Tropical Storm Arthur, Georgia has dealt with severe weather conditions since the start of the spring. In March and April, Georgia experienced heavy rainfall and severe flooding in more than 100 counties while also dealing with the aftermath of the coronavirus. In March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency for 120 Georgia counties south of I-20. “The state is working to ensure counties impacted by flooding across Georgia have access to all the resources necessary to respond,” Kemp said at the time. “I encourage residents to listen to their local officials and news sources and heed the directions of their local emergency management officials,” he said. 

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Spotlight On: Sandi Bargfrede, Managing Partner, ACRE Commercial Real Estate

Spotlight On: Sandi Bargfrede, Managing Partner, ACRE Commercial Real Estate

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read May 2020 — The real estate market will know a before and after COVID-19 as soon as activities resume. Sandi Bargfrede, managing partner of ACRE Commercial Real Estate, talks to Invest: about what to expect from Orlando’s market as the pandemic unfolds. 


How did ACRE Commercial Real Estate close 2019? 

2019 was a stellar year as not only did we see a tremendous increase in volume, but we also saw an impressive uptick in new retail concepts entering the Central Florida/Orlando market. ACRE specializes in retail third-party leasing, property management and tenant representation and we had never seen such a stronger increase in all aspects of our business than we did in 2019. In addition to strong growth in tenant representation, in the last year we also secured a significant stronghold in the Downtown and surrounding area in the mixed-use sector. 

How does your company capitalize on being an all-female commercial real estate firm? 

Women provide a different perspective on retail as we are typically the shoppers and we usually plan the family social activities. We are able to use this to our advantage as we can bring a different point of view to a project. ACRE did not set out to be an all-female firm. That said, we are all-female-owned but we are always open to hiring exceptional professionals, male or female. My business partner and I have been in this business for 20-plus years each and we have witnessed the industry evolve with more 

professional women entering the historically male-dominated field now more than ever. We believe this trend will continue and we will continue to provide the required mentorship platform for all in the business looking to thrive. 

What unique business opportunities does Orlando offer to your business and operations? 

Seventy-two million people per year visit Orlando, bolstering a strong service and hotel industry, where retail spaces are required to provide for these visitors. The retail opportunities are therefore exponential. We are seeing a significant wave of people moving here due to recent job growth figures, with close to 12 percent overall job growth in Orlando itself. With all of this growth, we are seeing a surge in new development from shopping centers to urban mixed-use communities. These new developments provide ACRE the opportunity to use our experience to work with developers before they break ground. Utilizing our extensive background in leasing, tenant representation and development allows us to create a project with not only the proper infrastructure but also the ability to create the synergistic tenant mix required for a project to be successful for the retailer and developer alike. 

What is your assessment of Orlando’s commercial real estate market? 

It is very strong as there are many vibrant areas that are growing in the Metro Orlando market, such as Hamlin, Lake Nona, Apopka, Clermont and downtown to name a few. We are seeing a housing boom in Orlando and these areas are all creating retail destinations for services and amenities along with community-driven gathering spaces for their residents and visitors. 

How has the COVID-19 outbreak altered the Central Florida real estate market? 

We do not believe it will resemble the 2008 crash, especially if we can get back to work sooner than later. It will definitely change the landscape considering the ever-changing social distancing guidelines and measures. These will certainly have a lasting effect on retail and restaurant margins. However, it will also open the door for reinvention and creativity toward preservation. 

We have always been outside-the-box thinkers. Recession-proof and Amazon-resistant have been part of our vocabulary and now we added pandemic and social distancing to the mix. We will find new ways to create tenant mixes that reflect the changes in our “new normal.” We offer consulting and advisory services to our clients and believe these services will be more valuable than ever to assist with navigating this new unknown landscape together. We have always treated our projects like they are our own and will continue to do so. 

What is your outlook for 2020-21? 

There will be a slight correction in the retail portion of the commercial real estate landscape. This will translate into greater inventory of second generation space available, which will most likely result in a reduction of rental rates until the absorption of inventory is stabilized. We do have a positive outlook as we head into 2021 and businesses start to recover. That said, it is difficult to predict as the COVID-19 effect is still unknown. All in all, we believe there is room for a fast recovery and in the end, Orlando will be stronger than before. 


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Spotlight On: Kenneth Rosenfield, Managing Partner, Rosenfield & Company PLLC

Spotlight On: Kenneth Rosenfield, Managing Partner, Rosenfield & Company PLLC

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read May 2020 — In a crowded accounting and consulting services marketplace, it can be hard to differentiate from the masses. Kenneth Rosenfield, managing partner of Rosenfield & Company PLLC, is accomplishing this by putting a greater investment into his people and by creating a culture that is strong enough to be listed among the “Best Places to Work” for CPA firms last year. He also speaks to his firm’s adaptability as being key to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and while most businesses have seen a major slowdown in activity, his firm is experiencing an influx of demand as it works to process SBA loans for its clients.


How is the Orlando market conducive to your firm’s success? 

 Orlando’s economy has been doing really well and has been a great place to work. The workforce is plentiful and the universities here are fantastic. We are lucky to have access to the largest university  in Florida, which has been really great for recruiting to our firm. UCF has been fantastic to work with. The manufacturing industry, which is one of our core industries, has been doing really well in Orlando as well. A lot of people have the perception that Orlando is Disney World, but that is actually the third-largest industry in this region behind healthcare and manufacturing. We are big in the automotive retail industry, and Central Florida is the third-largest automotive market in the country. We have a variety of car dealerships in Orlando, including some of the largest in the country, which are all clients of ours, and is one reason our headquarters is located in Orlando. The automotive retail sector is usually the first to go into a recession and the first to come out of it. 


In searching for a new office space, what have you identified in regard to vacancies in the Downtown area?

 Downtown is challenged due to the consolidation of space. There are a lot of vacancies in Downtown Orlando. A lot of this is caused by banks and law firms downsizing in that area. I’m not sure what the exact cause is because everybody seems to be doing well. I believe this could be because the thought process has changed. Everyone used to want a big office, but now everyone is going more toward a collaborative workspace, which takes up a lot less space. That has created a big hole in the market and it has caused the rate per square foot to come down. So much space is now available.


How do you remain competitive with firms of your size and the larger national firms? 

 We compete with the big national firms for staff and clientele. We have to offer the same level and more creative types of compensation while also offering a completely different work atmosphere that those firms don’t supply. We also have to be different from all the firms our size and price competitive with the large firms. Ultimately, this leads us to making a greater investment in our people. We don’t have the “grind them up and chew them out” environment that the big firms have. We also have made the investment with the local colleges to acquire the best available interns. We have to maintain a really great intern program that allows them to do exciting things and also receive practical work experience. If you don’t provide that environment, you won’t get to participate in that talent pool. Having a great work environment leads to more productivity and ability to serve our clients better. We are really proud to have won, Best Places to Work for CPA firms last year. We also invested heavy into technology over the years, and we are much more efficient than our competitors in serving our clients. 


How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your operations? 

 Today, we are extremely inundated with processing SBA loans for our clients. Other people had also heard about us doing this, so if they are big enough we have algorithms to figure out the best method to accomplish this. We then put together loan packages and submit them to the banks. We have already completed over 150 of them and these are big SBA loans valued at over half a million dollars, at least. Tax filings were pushed back, so we are still working on those but not as much as we are working on these SBA loans. We also do SEC work, so we have a lot of quarterly and annual filings coming up that we are still working on. Our audit team is very busy. We are going to see a lot of merger and acquisition activity in the coming months, which we are also proficient at. 


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Federal, state govts rally to help homeless during COVID-19 outbreak

Federal, state govts rally to help homeless during COVID-19 outbreak

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read  — Since March, shelter-in-place measures have become the norm across the nation, shuttering nonessential businesses, schools and public gathering spaces. While the majority of people transitioned to a new way of life during the quarantine, including remote work and distance learning, the U.S homeless population risks COVID-19 infection as they lack access to testing and basic hygiene facilities, among other measures to combat infectious diseases. Additionally, for the homeless population, many are older adults or have underlying medical conditions, increasing the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. As such, states, municipalities, local health departments, housing authorities, among other institutions, have been working to meet the food, shelter, hygiene and testing needs of the homeless population.   


In South Florida, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, in collaboration with various state and federal agencies, has been helping to protect sheltered and unsheltered homeless households and its staff in the face of the COVID-19 threat. “The Homeless Trust is proactive in engaging our housing and support service providers to offer guidance, assess needs and facilitate vital connections to local, state and federal resources,” said Trust Chairman Ronald L. Book in a press release. “Our preparations have to consider the fact that much of our population does not have a ‘home’ with which to self-quarantine; therefore, we have broader issues to consider. We will continue to work to ensure homeless households have access to shelter, care and food while doing all we can to mitigate the virus’ spread.”

As part of its outreach efforts, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust is distributing hygiene, safety and food kits to unsheltered homeless persons throughout the county along with educational information. Outreach teams are taking temperatures of unsheltered homeless persons to pre-identify those with symptoms, among other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Pinellas County, the city of Clearwater has taken similar steps to help the homeless population of the region. As part of its mission, the city’s economic development department is focused on economic growth and the vitality of the community, which includes the homeless population. As such, the department is encouraging restaurants that have had to close or limit their operations temporarily to donate food to food banks, which then distribute the food to the most vulnerable segments of the community, Economic Development and Housing Director Denise Sanderson told Invest: Insights in an interview. “We have not seen a big increase in street level homelessness,” she said. “We have seen an increase in the presence of our homeless community. Primarily because we have had to close down our recreation centers and libraries.” As those facilities closed, the department pivoted to placing porta-potties and mobile shower units throughout the city to help the homeless community stay clean during this time. “To date, we have not had any cases, at least known to us, where COVID-19 has affected the homeless population.” Sanderson said. 

In Orlando, the shelters are preparing for an influx of homeless people. Shelters are down beds because social distancing precautions require separation of beds, Spectrum News reported. Shelters are concerned with bringing in people who may have the virus. “Right now we have a campus that is fairly safe. How do we bring people on without introducing that,” John Hearn, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, told the news outlet. Hearn’s shelter has been screening everyone before they enter the campus. The shelter set up isolation areas for people showing symptoms. This move, along with social distancing measures, cost the shelter close to 50 beds, Spectrum News reported. His shelter has increased the distribution of meals to three times a day and still has open beds available, according to the news outlet. 

At the federal level, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion funding package aimed at protecting the population, industries and businesses from the impact of the coronavirus, set aside more than $12 billion to help the homeless population and those who serve them. Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization focused on ending homelessness, detailed the portion of the CARES act aimed at helping those experiencing homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would divvy up the funds for Emergency Solutions Grants to assist homeless shelters and outreach workers who keep people who are homeless safer from coronavirus, different rent assistance programs, and other assistance programs aimed at the elderly, Native Americans, and people with AIDS, among other initiatives, according to Community Solutions. Federal, state and local agencies must work together to optimize resources and help for the homeless population, the nonprofit wrote on its website. “While we are pleased that our federal lawmakers provided this needed fiscal relief, we need to ensure that people experiencing homelessness, and those who serve them, continue to be supported as state and local governments work to administer funds and in any forthcoming stimulus package, Community Solutions said. “Following the injection of this stimulus funding, state and local governments must focus on allocating this new funding to protect people experiencing homelessness and homeless response staff, and limit inflow into health care and hospital systems. This includes ensuring people experiencing homelessness — and the people helping them — have immediate access to housing, health and safety training, personal protective equipment, facilities for hand-washing, medical treatment, testing options and ultimately, safe places to quarantine.”


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Spotlight On: Clay Worden, Office Managing Partner, RSM US LLP

Spotlight On: Clay Worden, Office Managing Partner, RSM US LLP

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — Accounting and consultancy firm RSM’s Orlando practice had little problem migrating its operation to remote after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state. The company’s managing partner for the Central Florida city’s practice, Clay Worden, shares his views on how his company and small business will adapt and learn from the contingency.

What specific markets does your Orlando office focus on?

Hospitality and real estate are key components of the Central Florida economy, and we spend quite a bit of energy serving these sectors. Food and beverage is also an important sector for us. Agriculture is one of the key economic drivers in the state and we serve a lot of Ag-based organizations.


We also serve SEC clients, nonprofit organizations and manufacturing companies. Our tax practice is incredibly robust and growing. We seem to be firing on most cylinders.


Which area of your practice has seen the largest demand in recent years?

We are seeing a lot of demand related to digital transformation. Organizations, even before the COVID-19 situation, are looking at their systems, especially their legacy systems and saying, “Hey, is this the platform that is going to get us where we need to be?” From a technology consulting standpoint, I think that is one of the areas where we’ve had some exponential growth.


Another area where we continue to see organizations focusing on is the internal audit and risk advisory functions. When the economy is robust and companies are generally profitable, they want to make sure their systems, controls and policies are functioning as designed to safeguard their assets.


What challenges has the firm faced in dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We recognize that our younger folks embrace technology and want to use technology. With that in mind, our audit practice and consulting practice has been primarily remote for the past several years. We visit clients and still have to access systems and software to be able to work, but we were pretty much prepared for the fact that we might not be at the office and prepared to work from home.


Our tax practice was traditionally people going to the office and to some client locations, so it was important to have the technology that provides them with access and to give them the tools they need, which included a little more bandwidth in the system to get to their tools. We started that process and were quickly able to get it to them. For us, it really hasn’t changed much. You still have access to all the data and everything we need to serve our clients.


One of the opportunities that we are seeing from this is that we are helping businesses access the stimulus that is being offered, making sure they qualify, follow the rules, and are taking advantage of the tax benefits that are available today. We’ve quickly mobilized people who are or are becoming experts in helping clients navigate these government programs.


Another area where we are seeing some changes is travel. We were to hold a firmwide leadership meeting with about 100 firm leaders going to Chicago in April. Instead, we held that meeting virtually. From my perspective it was very effective. We missed the reception and cocktail hour to talk face to face with some of our colleagues we have not connected with for a while, but in terms of disseminating information and communicating, it was very effective.


What is your outlook for the Orlando area in the near term?

My cup is always half full. I am confident that our firm and Orlando, Florida, and the country as a whole will come out of this stronger and more equipped than we were going in.


I think that certainly the pain is going to be probably worse, and longer, than most people would like. When you live in Central Florida, which is primarily built on hospitality and entertainment, I don’t know how quickly people are going to hop back on a plane and come right back.


I do have some serious concerns for the smaller businesses. I don’t know that the smaller businesses, like restaurants, have the capital to withstand being with limited customers for an extended period of time. Big and small,  companies are going to have to rethink how they do business in the future.


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