Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings delivered his 2023 State of the County message on Friday, June 9, 2023, at the Linda W. Chapin Theatre within the Orange County Convention Center.
Our county’s diversity underscores the outstanding accomplishments of Orange County Government and our critical partnerships that we cultivate and rely on. During the presentation, Mayor Demings provided a look forward with a glimpse of how we intend to take our community to the next level.
MAYOR DEMINGS' SPEECH
Good morning and welcome to the 2023 State of Orange County!
Let me begin by thanking Robert Agrusa and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association for once again partnering with Orange County to host this event.
The band from Evans High School provided a wonderful start to our program! But I really want to thank them for being here, especially during their summer vacation.
I also want to recognize the Joint Honor Guard of First Responders from the Orange County Fire Rescue Department, Orange County Corrections Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. They did a fantastic job!
Thank you to retired Naval Captain Rich Sloane for leading us in the pledge of Allegiance. Let me also say that was an amazing rendition of the National Anthem by two vocalists of the UCF Soprano and Alto Chorus.
We are so privileged to live in the greatest nation in the world, the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Thank you to Reverend Sharon Y. Riley from the Agape Perfecting Praise and Worship Center and Ashok Patel, Lead Coordinator, of the BAPS Temple for their invocations and commitment to Orange County’s faith community.
Please give them all another round of applause!
Today, I am joined by THE FIRST LADY OF ORANGE COUNTY...my wife, the former Congresswoman Val Butler Demings, my sons, and other members of my family. I couldn’t do this job without their support.
I know that our County Commissioners have already been recognized, but I want to thank my colleagues again for their presence today. I would also like to express my gratitude to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for being here and all the other mayors present.
Thanks to all the elected officials WHO ARE here today.
I’m thrilled to have so many gathered here at the beautiful Linda Chapin Theatre. Forty years ago, this community had a vision and invested in the Orange County Convention Center.
Today, I am delivering my fifth State of the County address here at the Convention Center's West Building, which was ONE OF the first phases developed. Our convention center is among the best in the country and has helped define this community. You will hear more about our Center of Hospitality a little later in the program.
This has been a year of significant achievements, record-breaking tourism numbers, and strong economic growth. It has also been a year of triumphs, hardships, and challenges that only Mother Nature could deliver. As a community, we’ve worked together to face the unknown and we are stronger because of it.
This is my 42nd year of public service and I have loved every minute of the opportunity to serve. I’m proud to say Orange County is one of the greatest counties in Florida and I dare say the nation.
Today’s presentation will highlight how we are taking Orange County to the next level in every possible way.
Our economy has come back strong, and we are thriving. The County boasts healthy reserves and outstanding bond ratings. We continue to receive Fitch’s highest triple-A rating across the board, and this has not changed for many years.
Economists predict a mild recession is anticipated sometime in the next twelve months, but our healthy financial reserves will help us navigate the turbulent times and weather the storms ahead.
As we all know, Hurricane Ian was one of the most powerful storms to hit Florida in decades.
It was recorded as a 500-year flood, which struck our community, and left thousands without power or livable homes. Many residents were affected by the floods, and some remain in alternative housing eight months later.
During a storm, the County’s Office of Emergency Management is the center for coordinating all storm related operations. Preparedness is key, and our residents took part by filling over 170,000 sandbags to protect their homes from water intrusion.
Orange County Fire Rescue teams were proactive visiting 80 mobile home communities, and more than 100 nursing homes to check readiness and evacuate vulnerable communities.
In addition, our public works crews checked stormwater infrastructure and ponds.
Schools were quickly converted into shelters, which gave some 1,600 evacuees a safe place to ride out the storm.
Right here at the Convention Center, emergency personnel and equipment were staged so they could be rapidly deployed to the hardest hit areas throughout the State.
As the storm raged, Orange County Fire Rescue teams quickly rescued 1,700 residents and their pets.
Eventually, shelter operations shifted from protecting residents from the weather to providing refuge for those whose homes were damaged.
Orange County worked closely with FEMA to set up the County’s Disaster Recovery Center at Barnett Park. The Center helped survivors and businesses obtain assistance.
FEMA Teams canvassed affected areas of the community to assist with disaster claims.
Transitional shelter assistance was provided to displaced residents.
We worked in partnership with the Florida Department of Children and Families to set up a program that provided food assistance to families and individuals.
Our commissioners worked within their districts to assist with food distribution and facilitate other services. Thank you, Commissioners.
The sixteen inches of rainfall caused significant flooding countywide. Our public works department coordinated with the South Florida Water Management District to discharge the flood waters.
In addition, the county activated debris removal teams for cleanup. Let me remind you that Orange County maintains over 2,600 miles of roadway.
As a result, this was a time-consuming operation. Debris removal teams collected almost eight THOUSAND truckloads of debris.
A significant part of the County’s response is community outreach. The County worked with community partners including the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, and others to distribute meals, water, and social service assistance for those impacted by the storm.
Over a ten-day period, Second Harvest distributed over 900,000 meals in Orange County to those in need.
And through it all, we recognized our responsibility to keep the community informed. Our communications team was constantly pushing out information through press conferences and social media.
Our partnership with HUD remains strong in Orange County as we’ve faced storms and community challenges. HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and FEMA have provided Orange County with $243 million in federal funding to help meet the needs of our community.
This funding will be used to provide economic revitalization, restoration of infrastructure and housing to mitigate flooding impacts in the future and fill a gap for people experiencing - or at risk of experiencing - homelessness.
Communities across the nation continue to need more affordable housing. Here in Florida, almost sixty percent of renters are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than thirty percent of their household income on rent. On top of that, seventy-one percent of Florida’s low-income renters are also cost-burdened.
In other words, Orange County is not unique in its housing challenges.
We have aggressively addressed individuals and families at risk of being evicted through the Federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. To date, $40 million has been kept by more than 15,000 individuals in their homes through Orange County’s Emergency Rental Assistance program.
In 2019, we developed the Housing for All Action Plan and created the first Housing Trust Fund with a $160 million commitment.
Our community partners have also stepped up to increase affordable and workforce housing for our residents.
This year, we opened the Office of Tenant Services, and have already assisted 1200 tenants and landlords.
Since 2019, more than 2,000 affordable housing units have been built or are under development. I want to share with you a few of our new multi-family complexes in Orange County:
- Barnett Villas
- The Mira
- Emerald Villas Phase Three
- Sandpiper Glen – which is housing for seniors.
Our theme parks are also doing their part to increase workforce housing.
Universal Orlando Resort is building 1,000 high-quality, affordable, and mixed-income housing units on 20 acres of land in the heart of the tourist corridor. The first development phase of Catchlight Crossings is underway.
In addition, Walt Disney World has brought on a developer to build more than 1300 high-quality, workforce housing units on 80 acres of designated land.
For many people, homeownership seems unattainable, but for residents who qualify for Orange County’s down payment assistance program, these funds can help pave the way for economic advancement.
Over the years, the program has helped thousands of qualified residents make down payments. This year marks 20 years of the County’s down payment assistance program which has provided more than $73 million to help residents realize the dream of home ownership.
When we discuss housing in Orange County, we must look at growth.
Did you know that more than fifty percent of the state’s population lives in only seven counties, one of them being Orange County? Sixty-seven counties make up the State of Florida, and more than eleven million residents live in just seven counties.
Orange County is the fifth most populated county in Florida and now exceeds 1.5 million residents.
We are a caring and welcoming community that celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are a community where blacks, whites, Jews, gentiles, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, LGBTQ+, and all law-abiding people are welcomed.
Let’s take a look at how the melting pot of diaspora is strengthening the vibrancy of our community with a segment by Jane Watrel, Manager of Communications.
Thank you, Jane, for that insight into our growing community.
In 1986, Orange County’s charter form of government was adopted by voters and is up for review every four years. The Charter Review Commission is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.
I want to give my sincere thanks to the 15 citizens who make up the volunteer commission for the work they’re doing on behalf of our residents. My expectation is that the Commission will work diligently to preserve the will of the electorate and protect our Charter Form of Government.
I am honored to lead Orange County’s dedicated workforce that provides services for our residents and visitors. I would like to ask our county employees to please stand and be recognized.
They do a phenomenal job taking care of the residents of the county and beyond. Case in point, this year’s Orange County Government United Way Fundraising Campaign had a record-breaking year raising more than $800,000 for residents in need.
Deputy County Administrator Danny Banks and his United Way team did an amazing job, and we know the upcoming team led by Carrie Mathes, Manager of Procurement, will also do a phenomenal job.
Our employees took giving to the next level through fundraisers, direct employee giving, selling parking spaces for events, and hosting a sold-out golf tournament.
Now, that deserves a round of applause!
I’m also proud of our Utilities Department employees who received the prestigious J.D. Power Award for Best Customer Satisfaction.
To continue taking customer service to the next level, we created the Team 400 Customer-First Initiative. This initiative is a cross-section of 400 county employees involved in the development, planning, and permitting process. Team 400 provides enhanced customer service to our contractors and businesses.
In 2022, new construction development in Orange County exceeded $3.4 billion and permitting soared to nearly $3 billion.
We also won seven national achievement awards from the National Association of Counties. These awards recognized innovative programs, community collaboration and creativity in service delivery.
I want to highlight a couple of employees who have been recognized this year for their outstanding work in their profession and in the community. These include:
Orange County Corrections Sergeant Sharla Cooley was named the Central Florida Crisis Intervention Team Officer of the Year by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Orlando.
Shally Wong, Special Assistant to the Mayor, was recognized as one of the Women of the Year by Orlando Magazine, and Byron Brooks, County Administrator, received the National Forum for Black Administrators “Marks of Excellence Award.”
I am so proud of Orange County’s dedicated and committed employees focused on improving the quality of life for all residents.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen our tourism and hospitality industry make a strong comeback. Thanks to the attractions, hotels, restaurants, sporting venues, performing arts, and other amenities, we are the NUMBER ONE tourist destination in the world.
We are thrilled that 74 million visitors came to Orange County in 2022!
Yes, that deserves a round of applause!
This number reflects our Unbelievably Real destination that delivers unforgettable experiences and top-notch customer service. Let’s take a closer look at how our theme parks are taking entertainment to the next level. By the way, we love all of them!
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is home to the fastest, biggest, and newest ride at Walt Disney World... the TRON Light-cycle Run Roller Coaster. TRON is already one of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World.
EPIC Universe, the newest park planned for Universal Orlando, is set to open in 2025. The largest park to be built by Universal Orlando will be packed with a host of new rides. So, stay tuned; there is more to come from EPIC Universe.
SeaWorld just launched a brand-new standing roller coaster, Pipeline! The coaster delivers the incredible power of the ocean in a whole new way. It’s the first-of-its-kind surf coaster.
Our spectacular theme parks and numerous attractions in Orange County are committed to creating transformational experiences for our visitors and residents, and this includes our Orange County Convention Center. As we celebrate the Convention Center’s 40th anniversary, let me take a moment to highlight the successful year we’ve had at the Center of Hospitality.
Youth sporting events have dominated activities at our Orange County Convention Center. For example, the AAU National Championship for Volleyball brought in more than 178,000 attendees and $228 million in economic impact.
So far this year, we’ve held 87 events with $1.6 billion in economic impact. These include the PGA Show, Open Championship Cheer and Dance, and one of the fan favorites – MegaCon. These three events alone netted $364 million in economic impact.
We are on track to reach 159 events and $2.8 billion in economic impact. Now that’s next level!
The Convention Center has a long tradition of welcoming conferences, tradeshows, and events to our community. In return, the community has benefited with more than $14 million in donated food, supplies, furniture, and other products.
The millions of hotel visitors to Orange County pay a Tourist Development Tax charged at hotels and resorts. Over the last three years, the TDT reserves have steadily grown to a healthy $300 million.
When we reached that pinnacle, I empaneled a TDT Citizen Advisory Task Force to prioritize investments and ensure our residents are a part of the conversation. The task force will provide input to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners and the Tourist Development Council on potential uses of future, unallocated TDT revenues that meets current Florida Statutes and guidelines.
I want to thank Jane Healy and Tony Jenkins for being the co-chairs of the task force and the 32 members for volunteering their time and expertise to formulate recommendations that will be presented soon.
TDT revenues have supported our Sports venues which bring capacity crowds to Orange County. The caliber of sporting events never disappoints.
Thousands of sports fans and spectators gathered for the Florida Classic matchup and top-ranked teams showcased their skills on the gridiron at Camping World Stadium.
The United States Tennis Association National Campus served up the NCAA Championships last month for tennis fans of all ages.
In basketball, Orlando Magic Power Forward Paolo Banchero was named NBA Rookie of the Year, leading all NBA rookies in scoring and minutes played. Congratulations to Paolo and the Orlando Magic on this achievement! We are all looking forward to a great 2024 season!
Sporting events not only boost our economy but create jobs and bring people together. Talking about bringing people together begs the question about how we can better move people around in our community.
And, although the Transportation Sales Tax Initiative did not receive the support needed to pass, we continue to explore funding options to improve our transportation system.
We will soon announce an interim plan to incrementally move us forward toward improving our transportation system and making our roadways safer.
In the meantime, Vision Zero is part of our long-range efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. Last August, the Board of County Commissioners voted to adopt Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate both traffic fatalities and severe injuries by designing safer roadways.
I am proud to share that in 2022 alone, Orange County invested $7.3 million in ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps and pedestrian-related safety improvements.
Let me take a moment to recognize Cristina Cruz, an assistant project manager in Orange County’s traffic engineering DIVISION, who was named Outstanding Bike-Ped Advocacy Champion by Bike-Walk Central Florida. Thanks, Cristina, for all your efforts.
Our community has reached a major milestone that takes passenger travel to the next level.
In 2022, Orlando International Airport opened Terminal C, which will accommodate an additional 10 to 12 million passengers annually.
This facility is the start of a new era in global, multi-modal connectivity, featuring the seamless integration of planes, trains, and automobiles with close proximity to cruise ports within our region.
Just recently, we unveiled Brightline’s Passenger Rail Station at the Orlando International Airport. Brightline operations will revolutionize travel options between Miami and Orlando.
It will be the first stop for many visiting our community, with features that will attract both business and leisure travelers. Most importantly, the station lays the foundation for creating a true multi-modal transportation system that will help grow our transit capacity.
With Brightline’s expansion to our region, projects like the proposed Sunshine Corridor would link International Drive to the Orlando International Airport with the construction of a Sunrail station near the Convention Center.
Improved transportation options allow Orange County to move the needle and expand the number of technology companies and related jobs.
We welcome these companies that are adding diversified careers to Orange County.
Kaseya – an information technology company.
Command Post Technologies – a veteran-owned cybersecurity business.
Globalfy – a company that elevates tech and e-commerce companies.
Red 6 – a technology company at the forefront of air combat training.
And coming soon: Orange County will launch its Center for Innovation, Design and Inclusion, focused on tackling community issues.
And more good news!
The new Orlando College of Osteopathic Medicine, this new medical school is a $200 million investment in West Orange County that will open its doors in 2024.
So, from tourism to technology these companies are bringing hundreds of high paying jobs and millions in revenue to Orange County and helping to diversify our economy!
I believe there is a direct relationship between education and economic growth. Orange County is fortunate to have the finest institutions of higher learning nestled in our community that are preparing talent to support innovation in the present and future.
Dr Jeff Williamson, Director of Communications, will spotlight award-winning institutions that are taking education to the next level in Orange County.
Thank you, Dr. Williamson. I couldn't say it better.
I realize we have other institutions of higher learning, and we will highlight them at our next state of the county.
Incorporating technology and innovation in our daily lives has become the norm for most people, but it is also not attainable for everyone because of lack of access to the internet. Orange County is committed to bridging the digital divide for residents in our unserved communities that lack access to reliable high-speed internet service.
We are collaborating with community partners through the County’s Broadband Opportunity grant to ensure unserved areas have digital access to vital services such as telehealth, employment opportunities, and other community resources.
In other technology news, Bishop Derrick McRae and the Experience Christian Center, plan to give away 35,000 computer tablets to qualifying individuals and families to help improve access to the internet.
Thank you, Bishop.
I applaud our clergy for what they are doing to make Orange County a better place.
You’ve heard me talk about diversifying our economy and expanding our workforce, but let’s not forget about the integral role of small businesses.
We look forward to launching the second phase of the Small Business, Home-Based, and Gig Worker grant programs available through our federal funding. The grants will assist eligible small businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic.
You will hear more about this soon.
Equally important to technology is providing essential language skills for a diverse workforce.
Orange County created EPIC – a program that teaches English to workers in the International Drive Corridor. This innovative and first of its kind partnership between Orange County, UCF Global, and the Aeras Foundation is removing language barriers for these workers who are learning English.
I’m thrilled that Rosen Hotels and Resorts was the first business to sign on to this program. And now, the I.M.A. Medical Group and Paramount Hospitality are jumping on board. This program has limitless potential!
CareerSource of Central Florida continues to take workforce opportunities for businesses and potential employees to the next level. The Level Up Orange FREE program is available for residents of Orange County and can unlock the path to level up your job, your income, and your life.
More than 1,700 residents have qualified for the program, and 600 career seekers have been placed in jobs.
In addition, over 200 businesses have registered with the program and the average wage for individuals placed in careers is more than $18 an hour.
Speaking of workforce, about half of the County’s employees are involved in protecting the public health, welfare, and safety of our residents. I’m proud of the men and women who risk their lives to ensure our community’s safety.
Orange County takes first responder training seriously and our new state-of-the-art training facility is the next level for fire rescue professionals. The 30,000 square foot facility will consist of classrooms, apparatus bays, a simulation lab, a burn building and drill towers.
We expect to break ground this summer and open in late 2024.
In addition, we opened Fire Station 44 in west Orange County to ensure critical emergency services are available to the growing Horizon West community.
In February, our emergency service personnel responded to a tragic and senseless shooting that resulted in fatalities that included an adult woman, a nine-year-old child and a TV Reporter. Nothing will ever replace a loved one taken by violent crime, but it should not stop us from doing something about it.
The very next day, I announced the reconvening of the Citizens Safety Task Force, which is charged with reviewing and modifying recommendations to reduce and prevent gun violence and violent crime.
Co-chairs Pastor Jim Coffin and Dr. James Doggette, along with 35 diverse community members are committed to finding solutions and strategies to tackle this problem. I want to share some of the progress that’s been made.
Orange County has committed $2 million for prevention and intervention programs with most of it awarded to small, grassroots non-profit organizations. This includes the state’s first Credible Messenger Program with authentic individuals certified in the Credible Messenger Movement.
The Save Our Students program offered by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida and local faith organizations provides safe, fun places for young people. These are just two of the successful youth programs we are supporting.
Overall, Orange County dedicates nearly $89 million annually to provide more than 500 programs and services for individuals and families across the county.
From investing in our youth to helping those most in need, let’s see how we are taking health services to the next level.
Every day we make choices that can impact our environment and God’s green Earth.
Nearly three decades ago, the county created the Green PLACE program to preserve, enhance and restore environmentally sensitive lands. We remain committed to this program and plan to preserve an additional 23,000 acres by 2030.
This spring, Orange County opened the Hamlin Water Reclamation Facility. This new facility, which is the first to open in thirty years, will serve 40,000 residents and expand the use of reclaimed-water infrastructure to meet the needs of current and future residents.
The need to preserve green spaces and provide residents with areas to enjoy nature is fundamental to a growing and sustainable community.
This year, we have seen a record number of park openings and groundbreakings in our county.
These include the opening of the Magnolia Park Eco Education Building, and breaking ground at Summerlake Park, Tabor Field Park and Dr. Phillips Little League Complex.
Most recently, the county opened a state-of-the-art Skate Park at Barnett Park.
We are advancing recreational opportunities for our community!
That's next level!
It is now my pleasure to highlight a few of the community initiatives and events that showcase our broad diaspora.
Last year, Orange County’s MLK Initiative held its first Juneteenth Celebration. Now a national holiday, we look forward to the county’s celebration just a week away.
The MLK Initiative also encourages reading across the county in partnership with the Orange County Library System. The initiative encourages youth and adults to discover books that align with Dr. King’s principles of non-violence.
By the way, let me congratulate the Orange County Library System which is celebrating its 100th year of serving our community.
Throughout the year, we observe various cultural heritage and history months that celebrate our diversity and inclusion. This year, we celebrated the stories of strong, successful women in Orange County as we hosted the County’s first Women’s History Month Forum with more than 200 in attendance.
Every day we embrace the beauty of our culture and its people during parades, ceremonies, and community festivals.
I was humbled and honored to be a part of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War Veterans Commemoration. Over 400 veterans and families gathered at the VA Memorial at Lake Nona to honor Vietnam veterans and their enduring legacy of service and for some to welcome them home.
The event was very emotional for many of the Vietnam Veterans who shared that they felt appreciated for their service – like never before.
I want to thank the Orange County Mayor’s Veterans Advisory Council for their service to the nation and to recognize, remember and honor the veterans who gave so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy.
I want to ask ALL the Veterans in the audience to please stand so we can show our gratitude for your service and sacrifice.
Now let’s hear from Despina McLaughlin, senior Public Information Officer, as she highlights the diversity and culture found in each County Commission District.
Thank you, Despina.
Now let’s turn our attention to one of the jewels of Orange County, the arts.
We continue to explore opportunities to take arts and culture to the next level.
From Fusion Fest to Arts in the Chambers, we are showcasing the creativity and talent in our community.
Today, we want the State of the County to be an immersive experience for you.
Take a look and listen to some of our Fusion Fest performers.
Wow! Let’s give our performers another round of applause.
Special thanks to Terry Olson, DIRECTOR OF Orange County Arts & Cultural Affairs, CeCe Teneal, and our local artists and performance groups that continue to take the art experience to the next level.
Today’s State of The County highlighted how we are taking Orange County to the next level.
Continued investment in tourism promotion is how we take tourism and hospitality to the next level.
Focusing on economic development that welcomes businesses, innovation, and entrepreneurs is taking our economy to the next level.
Delivering quality education for in-demand careers takes our talent pipeline to the next level.
Strengthening our partnerships and investing in the Housing Trust Fund takes affordable housing to the next level.
Preserving and sustaining our commitment to the environment takes the community’s quality of life to the next level.
Protecting our community and enhancing programs and services takes public safety to the next level.
Ensuring access to children and family programs takes our services to the next level.
AND... investing in the arts, entertainment, and culture takes our community’s diversity to the next level.
Thank you … I’m proud to be your Orange County Mayor!