The city of St. Cloud is looking to balance the scales, upping its ante in pursuit of commercial development in the wake of its rapid population growth.
Representatives from the city's government, along with others from Orlando Economic Partnership and local entities including Kissimmee's new BRIDG – a public-private organization on the cutting edge of microelectronics research – hosted an economic development summit on April 11, inviting decision makers to tour the region, learn more and hopefully "find their place in the cloud."
"We're reaching out to anyone who has investment potential – bankers, developers, site selectors," said St. Cloud Mayor Nathan Blackwell, who has called the city home since 1988. "What we'd like to have is more commercial and industrial development that can contribute to the stability and growth of the city, providing jobs and economic opportunities."
Incentives for medical office buildings and industries including information technology, manufacturing and more hinge largely on high-wage jobs. Those incentives include up to $3,000 in job tax credits to qualified target industries (QTIs) to businesses that create high-paying jobs and up to $30,000 reimbursement for new construction or tenant improvements.
"The wage must be 115 percent of the county wage or higher," said City of St. Cloud Economic Development Manager David Rodriguez. "The business would have to create at least 10 jobs at that wage mark to be open to access these grants. It is a job-creator incentive."
The tour, which not only showcased the sections of the city being set aside for specific types of commercial development, also touted what was showcased as St. Cloud's prime asset: its location.
"We are only seven miles from Lake Nona," Rodriguez noted, an area that's been growing exponentially and is already hot.
"Our property is more affordable," said Blackwell, "and there is a huge employment base here because of the population growth we've had."
Rodriguez pointed out that 90 percent of St. Cloud residents leave the city each day for jobs outside Osceola County, "but that's because those opportunities are not here. Location is not our only strength. We have a very skilled workforce."
St. Cloud's historic downtown has charm in the form of storefronts and buildings dating to the early 1900s, but city officials are keen to bring new mixed-use development into its fold.
Incentives being offered here include an impact fee assistance program that includes 50 percent reimbursement on development, impact and other fees for businesses opening in or relocating to the downtown district and creating a minimum of three jobs, as well as a redevelopment and construction grant program that will refund 10 percent of the total project cost up to $50,000 per building.
Slides with renderings were shown alongside aerial images of vacant lots and even entire blocks, showcasing the development that's being envisioned in the city's Opportunity Zones.
Blackwell noted that those seeking permitting will find the city hospitable and accommodating.
"One of my frustrations having been here for 32 years is watching our kids and grandkids grow up here, go to college and then never come back." While he doesn't expect all to return, he'd like to open the door for those interested in building a life back home to have that as an option.
"The job opportunities have not been here, but that's beginning to change with all the things that are happening around us – Lake Nona, BRIDG …. It's exciting. So, we are here, identifying specific areas to set aside for industrial and commercial development and not be overwhelmed with all the residential growth that has taken place and is projected to continue."
He said that the city is projected to grow by 92 percent in the next 25 years.
"That's just mind boggling…! We want to promote good quality growth that will also provide sustainability to the city. Strategically…. The future is looking really good for this city."