By: Yolanda Rivas

2 min read January 2020 — Amid the growth in Orlando’s economy and population, local cities are emphasizing the unique characteristics of their respective business communities. The city of Kissimmee is taking advantage of its aviation industry, while the city of St. Cloud is looking to expand its experiential and entertainment retail offer. The Invest: team spoke with Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard, economic development director at the city of Kissimmee, and Antranette Forbes, St. Cloud’s economic development manager, about their efforts to grow their economies while taking care of their existing businesses. 

What are the key industries for the city’s economy?

Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard: Aviation is a growing industry in Kissimmee, as the city owns a general aviation airport, Kissimmee Gateway Airport. This airport is predominately the airport of choice for corporate jets or private plane owners arriving to go to the Orange County Convention Center or a Central Florida theme park. Kissimmee Gateway Airport is also a relief airport for Orlando International (OIA), providing services for noncompatible OIA uses.  Additionally, understanding the value of high-wage aviation jobs, the city launched its Aerospace Advancement Initiative to attract companies to our airport. A recent Florida Department of Transportation study showed our airport yields a direct annual economic impact of $190 million. In the last seven years, the airport has grown by over 300 jobs.

Another growing field in Kissimmee is the medical sector. The city of Kissimmee is home to two strong, growing hospitals, AdventHeath-Kissimmee and Osceola Regional Medical Center. Combined, these hospitals have invested over $300 million in campus expansions or are growing their service lines. To capitalize on that growth, the city launched its Kissimmee Medical Arts District, providing economic development incentives specifically to attract more physicians and medical companies to the area. When new medical companies enter the market, they provide new job opportunities, but it also results in more medical services available to residents. It’s a win-win.   

Antranette Forbes: Retail and professional services are our key industries. In fact, 35% of our business is service-oriented. In the medical industry, St. Cloud Regional Medical Center is our largest nongovernmental employer. They have over 500 employees and the majority are in medical or medical-related professions. We also have a large population of dentists. From a business recruitment standpoint, that is a great opportunity for medical device providers, assisted living facilities and other related companies.

We are focusing on diversifying our retail footprint. We are looking to attract experiential and entertainment retail. We have places to shop and eat, and now we are focusing on providing options to play. We also need more diversity in our industrial sector. While we may not have a high amount of space to do industrial, we do have talent who can perform in the sector.

How do you support the interests of residents, while focusing on expanding the city’s business community?

Ortiz Kirkegard: Meeting the needs of our residents is always at the forefront of economic development. Programs are designed to attract companies that provide high-value, high-wage jobs to the community. As our economic development program has evolved, so have the job opportunities, and that helps advance our household income levels. Additionally, the evolution of the program has worked toward diversifying our economy by no longer being solely tourism centric with jobs circling retail and hospitality. Although tourism will always be at the heart of Central Florida, diversifying industries increases our economic resilience.  

Forbes: We are implementing numerous strategies to diversify our economy. We have over 1,300 registered businesses in St. Cloud. Over 35 percent of those are home-based businesses. These types of businesses are an important contributor to our economy. These “mom and pop” types of companies are a major focus for us. We are looking to move them out of their homes and into office or storefront space. By helping them to reach that next level, these are the businesses that will be hiring more employees and supporting our growth.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

City of Kissimmee: https://www.kissimmee.org/government/economic-development/economic-development-office 

City of St. Cloud: http://stcloud.org/926/Economic-Development