Osceola Gazette By Ken Jackson
At the opening of Thursday’s fourth annual State of the County Address, Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce Chairman John Newstreet told the hundreds in attendance at Osceola Heritage Park – with thousands of others next door to welcome Democratic Presidential hopefully Bernie Sanders – that they would “hear some great things about Osceola County.” Keynote speaker and County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer would not disappoint. With a population expected to reach 681,000 by 2040, and pass Seminole County by 2030, growth on multiple fronts and the planning for it are in a passing gear, she said.
“Those are big numbers, but we have big plans that will touch everybody in the county as we build a new Osceola County for the future,” she said. “There is no doubt the state of Osceola County is strong.” Janer pointed to 2017 when the UCF Therapeutic Equestrian Research Center, Poinciana Parkway, Valencia College, Poinciana College and the main event, the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center will all be fully open. “Osceola County is the 19th fastest growing county according to figures, and it has recovered its pre-recession economic activity,” she said, also noting Osceola had recorded a higher GDP than Orange, Seminole, Brevard and Polk counties. “The first three months of our fiscal year have been strong.” If the county is the universe, the center of it would be FAMRC, which is coming out of the ground on the Judge Farm property south of Osceola Heritage Park and east of Kissimmee.
“It is grabbing world-wide attention,” Janer said. “It marks a further diversification of our economy from its long-time base of tourism and agriculture, and will help us compete in a global sensor research market with the help of our private and university partners.” But as economic drivers, agriculture and tourism aren’t getting moved aside by science. Over $109 million in agricultural products, mostly heads of cattle, were sold in 2015, and the county was recently annointed the “vacation home capital of the world,” Janer said. “Experience Kissimmee is building on that, and its place in social media,” she said, congratulating EK for becoming the world’s fourth travel marketing arm to reach 1 million Facebook fans. The people who visit the area, along with the hundreds of thousands who live where those people vacation, will find it a little easier to get around, at least that’s the plan. The widening of Poinciana Boulevard and Narcoossee Road were completed recently, restoring Thacker Avenue will soon begin, and the county’s second toll road, Poinciana Parkway, is slated to open April 30 to provide a new way to get in and out of the Poinciana area.
Those roads open up new areas for development in all directions. With Osceola County being the place where Central Florida will grow to – it has most of the last remaining empty space – Janer said the county must take the lead in planning. Long-range sector plans for the North East District and the North Ranch Sector Plan provide for protected growth and set aside ample land for permanent preservation. “We are planning our way to prosperity,” she said. Prosperity means having an affordable home for new residents to be able to buy, and addressing the county’s homelessness. The county purchased the Yates property north of U.S. Highway 192 and east of Old Vineland Road in order to build up to 200 units of affordable housing, in order to further work on the plight of families living in extended stay motels. With a construction manager in place for that housing, the county committed $1 million to the topic, including buying the land.