Deltona, Volusia County's largest city with 90,000 people, has long been known as a bedroom community whose workers get up mornings and travel to jobs in Orange, Seminole and other Central Florida counties.
But city leaders say they're on the verge of changing the city's DNA from worker exporter to job creator. Following the city's recent successes in landing Deltona's first full-service hospital and a massive retail center, economic development leaders feel they are ready to tackle the industrial sector.
"We noticed Deltona has a few very large tracts for development of large projects," Dehlinger said. "It's a big advantage."
The city commission recently approved a $46,000 contract with RMA to provide a strategic five-year economic development plan for a business park and manufacturing-related recruitment.
"We've recruited a few small manufacturers, but we don't have a business park," said the city's economic development manager, Jerry Mayes. "We have a few scattered lots here and there. But it's going to be hard to do manufacturing in the city without a business park."
Mayes, who came to work in the city in 2011, said building a business park and recruiting businesses to fill it is the latest page in a scripted plan developed in 2007 but shelved in the wake of the Great Recession. The plan's first phase was to grow it's almost non-existent medical/healthcare sector.
"We had very little medical, maybe a double handful of doctors' offices and a federally subsidized clinic," he recalled. "You had to go out of the city or out of the county to get medical help. There was just nothing here."
That changed about a year ago when Halifax Health announced it was building a $105 million, 95-bed hospital that would be the centerpiece of the Halifax Crossing development on the city. The hospital is scheduled to be completed early next year.
In August, Florida Hospital revealed plans to build a $12 million, 12-bed freestanding emergency room operation in the city. Both healthcare centers are on the city's main drag, Howland Boulevard. And Central Florida Regional Hospital, owned by the for-profit healthcare company HCA, has purchased land in Deltona.
"Since we started the plan to build up medical services, now we have hundreds of millions of dollars in health care (construction)," Mayes said.
The promise of hundreds of new jobs in the medical sector likely spurred Sleiman Enterprises, a Jacksonville commercial developer, to follow through on the first phase of a long-planned commercial hub, also on Howland Boulevard. Called Deltona Village, the center will consist of 300,000 square feet of retail space, 150,000 of medical office space, and 100,000 square feet of flex space for light industrial.
"With the work force coming into place, that attracted retail," Mayes said. "So, we made great strides in health-care recruitment and development and we're starting to go full guns on retail."
But Mayes and the other city leaders felt like medical sector growth would reach a "horizon," or saturation point. So, they started looking for the "next big thing."
"When you reach that medical horizon, you have to have that next big thing in place," he said. "That's why we contracted RMA."
Dehlinger agrees with Mayes that the hospital and freestanding ER announcements started a "wave of interest in development in Deltona."
The city has other attractive attributes, Dehlinger said, including a workforce of 45,000 people, 90 percent of whom drive outside the city for employment. The city location in Florida's I-4 High Tech Corridor and its proximity to the Space Coast, Orlando and Jacksonville, will also be advantageous in luring good-paying industries to a new business park, she said.
"Our scope is to develop a five-year strategic plan that will tell them how to bring this new industry into the city," Dehlinger said. "RMA is known throughout Florida for doing great plans, but we also implement them. We also have a business attraction department in the company that's had phenomenal success in attracting businesses."
RMA will complete the plan in the first quarter of 2019, said Dehlinger, the company's economic development director.
"We think there is an opportunity here to grab the tiger by the tail and promote Deltona and put it on the forefront of what people are talking about in terms of technology manufacturing," she said.