In her new post as Executive Director of the W192 Development Authority, Christina Morris will have a new channel in which to direct her passion for helping people, a quality she discovered nearly 20 years ago when she began her tenure with Osceola County.
"It's a great opportunity," Morris told GrowthSpotter. "I've been working on business expansion and retention and this new position gets back to what we used to work on within areas that were designated as Enterprise Zones, as distressed communities: redevelopment, retention and expansion."
Morris' entry into Osceola County was soft, a part-time position with Parks and Recreation while a college undergrad. This led to full-time, and an enthusiastic spark for public service.
"I started working Employment and Benefits and figured out that I not only love to help people, but also debunk the myth of slow government…. I enjoy educating the public that we're here to help and that there are always ways in which to do that."
It was a final move to Economic Development, where she's worked in various roles since 2005, where the Saint Cloud native truly found her governmental groove, becoming what she called an "instant student." The small department was a natural environment for cross training; Morris absorbed everything.
"We were bringing in businesses, creating jobs for the residents," she explains. "And one thing I really love about working here is that the administration really gets it, from the top down, everyone is invested in it."
So, too, does Morris, say her colleagues.
"Christina's strong background in economic development, along with her institutional knowledge, provides the perfect tools to guide the W192 Development Authority," says Osceola County Manager Don Fisher. "Her instincts and people skills are top-notch. She knows the corridor, its businesses and people, which ties in with her vision to keep things moving in a sector that is so important to the County's overall economic health. In her new position, she will continue to get important things done for the County."
Morris' often creative approach serves to bolster her experience and knowledge, others note.
"You always hear this about people, but Christina really does have the ability to think outside the box," says Hector Lizasuain. Now the Director of Government Affairs and Planning for Magic Development, he previously served as the W192 executive director and is currently a board member. He's known Morris for 12 years.
"She has this ability to move around and wear many hats, and even blend them together, and that's what she's going to bring to this position…. She understands the significance of this corridor, especially since it is the largest tax base in Osceola County. She understands that by creating interest in potential investors, by bringing them here, they will create jobs, increase revenue for the county and its overall economic health."
Morris is excited about the challenges and the room Osceola has to grow and to meet them – and the people of the county – with a literal open hand.
"I'm going to talk to as many people out there as possible," she says, "getting to know faces and names, get the people running our small businesses involved and educate them about what the Authority is setting up … programs that allow for new signage and the $2 million grant we have already received to refresh the landscape in the medians – which will really help me, inspire me, to bring the idea of 'placemaking' to the county."
In fact, says Morris, that project is about to get underway.
"We are still reviewing the bid paperwork, it has to clear a couple of channels, but," she notes, "contractors interested can get on the list."
Morris' interest in making sure the Authority's projects make sense for the county is front-of-mind.
"Tourism, entertainment, retail – spotlighting those businesses and getting those already here engaged in all the great things we are and will be doing and the projects being undertaken is important…. [Osceola County] is the center of the universe for me," she laughs. "Easy access to I-4, to the parks, to Tampa…."
She's confident she'll be able to show others its potential, as well.