2 min read December 2021 — In an interview with Invest:, City Manager for the City of Kissimmee, Mike Steigerwald talked about the rapid growth the City is experiencing and the challenges and opportunities that come with it. He also spoke about the City’s programs to support businesses that were impacted by pandemic shutdowns, make the area more affordable and aid those within the community struggling with homelessness.
What are some successful strategies implemented by the city to manage the pandemic?
One of the biggest things that I would like to highlight is the program we joined with Osceola County, the City of Saint Cloud, and our chambers of commerce to create called We’ve Opened Safely to promote safe practices for businesses, so customers are comfortable returning. The website and resources made available through the program allowed an open portal to keep businesses aware of best practices and customers informed of measures businesses are taking to keep them safe.
The impact proved to be positive and helpful for our businesses and in making the community feel safe. We found it was difficult to get companies funding and challenging to get companies to apply. When the second round of funding came out, we tried to make it very simple because we could access funding through the CARES Act that didn’t require as much documentation as the initial funding sources.
What are the city’s most pressing infrastructure needs?
Transportation has been a challenge, partly due to a large amount of growth we’re experiencing. Our county has come up with some creative ways to access funding, and with the American Rescue Plan, everyone has access to funding that can help with infrastructure. Right before the pandemic, we had a significant investment in Kissimmee in terms of mass transportation. The southern leg of SunRail opened, and the City completed a multimillion-dollar intermodal train station that serves Amtrak, SunRail and the regional bus system.
Our bike and pedestrian infrastructure showed its worth when the pandemic initially hit. We have completed approximately 10 miles of bike trails over the past five years and have never seen more use than they have now. We now have increased efforts to continue working on that infrastructure and security and operations that go along with it.
Is Florida beginning to rely on public transportation more than it has in the past?
Overall, I think Central Florida is way behind others when it comes to public transportation used by our citizenry, but it has improved compared to 10 years ago. It’s hard to deliver mass transportation to spread-out suburban areas. But I think the efforts started by SunRail will prove to be a catalyst of change over time.
What are some advantages and challenges caused by large numbers of people moving into Central Florida?
On the one hand, it is challenging dealing with the increased traffic and impacts on municipal services. However, it also comes with the advantages of attracting diversity and different cultures to the area. It gives this relatively small city a cosmopolitan feel. It improves the quality of life and makes the area more vibrant.
What are some solutions you see in regard to affordable housing?
One of the things that we have started to ask developers who are putting in market-rate housing is to set aside a percentage of affordable units. It mixes those units within the same area as market rate housing and removes any stigma of location. Also, for the first time in our City’s history, we are developing a homeless services center. We are seeking nonprofit developers to create an intake center for the homeless as that percentage of our population has increased. We hope to put the homeless in the system and get them into a unit. When they are stable, they will be more receptive to additional services to set them up for success in the future.
What strategies have been implemented to mitigate the effects of the labor shortage?
Our local business community has struggled as we are a service-oriented economy. Restaurants especially have been struggling with staff retention, hiring and keeping up with demand.
The City Commission approved Kissimmee Business Boost to assist businesses, a comprehensive set of assistance measures we are rolling out at the beginning of 2022. We hope that companies will use this assistance and put it back into their business and workforce to ensure stability post-pandemic.
What is your outlook for the city of Kissimmee and the local economy?
We will explode in a good way over the next five years. There has been a large amount of growth and investment in the community regarding housing and businesses in the Medical District. It is one of those areas that will continue to expand as technology advances and the area grows. Many projects are coming to completion, and further expansions are being made.
Our biggest priority at present is getting our homeless services center started. We are also planning a 20-acre mixed-use redevelopment for affordable family housing. The goal is to have that approved by the end of the calendar year.
We have such high demand in the housing market, and if you look at the region, we have the space to meet the demand. Things are starting to explode in the Downtown area, and the infrastructure allows for more opportunities to invest in the area while it is still growing.
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