Contrary to how amorous the name may appear at first, Kissimmee’s roots are firmly buried in the Native American language of the famous Seminole tribe of Florida. The exact meaning has been debated for many years, but what we do know is that the city was named after the Kissimmee River – its lifeblood and the gateway to southern Florida before the railways were established.
This pretty city in Osceola County, Florida experienced its first economic boom when steamboats transported cargo and people to where dredged land was being developed and populated. At this time, the area was known as Allandale, after Confederate Major J. H. Allen, the man who operated the first cargo steamboat here.
The city was renamed when it was incorporated in 1883. Around this time, it was exceptionally famous for its cattle, and with the cattle, came the cowboys. Those were interesting times, and the economy flourished as adventurers flocked to what was then known as the end of the line. In the late 1800s to 1900s, Kissimmee was the largest city in central Florida, and life was good. Its cattle industry made it even larger than Orlando, and ranchers grew the best meat in the country.
Today, it is loved for different reasons. The city has become a technological hub with unprecedented growth. Balancing industry and trade is its natural crown jewel: Lake Tohopekaliga, which offers some of the best bass fishing and recreation in the world.
Kissimmee is run by a super team of very well-qualified and dedicated people. Business in Focus recently discussed some of the latest developments with two of the City’s department directors, Development Services & Community Redevelopment Director, Craig Holland, and Economic Development Director, Belinda Kirkegard.
They were very excited about the city’s growth rate and the addition of some big new infrastructure. “Next spring to summer, our commuter rail station will open up in downtown Kissimmee – it’s called SunRail. SunRail will provide commuter rail service along a 61 mile stretch and connect our four counties efficiently. It is huge for us, as it will bring additional workforce opportunities into Kissimmee,” says Holland.
SunRail is a component of the City’s bigger picture transportation network. It is part of their new Multimodal Transportation Center – which ties rail transportation into their regional and national bus systems. “You will be able to get to downtown Orlando from Kissimmee on the train in half the time, if not a third of the time that you could on the interstate right now,” explains Holland.
The City is also working on the Mosaic Downtown Redevelopment Project, a mixed residential unit development in downtown Kissimmee – which is expected to bring between six hundred and nine hundred new residents to the downtown area. This is a “$65 million project, and we’re currently at Phase 1,” he says. Holland added that, “we’re also bringing a third parking garage into our downtown. In a matter of one year, we’ll have added over seven hundred new parking spaces in downtown. This is a tremendous asset to any city.” The development will include apartments, townhomes, retail, and a hotel right on the lakefront, which of course will be very exciting. City officials believe this development is a game changer.
“We’re very lucky,” Holland asserts. “We have these quantum leap moments relatively often, probably more than most cities get. We’re currently in a housing boom; Osceola County and the City of Kissimmee are some of the few areas in Central Florida that still have developable land, so right now, they can’t build houses fast enough for the people moving here.”
Holland believes the city offers its residents great value and lifestyle. He says they take great care to avoid cookie cutter designs in housing developments, and work with home-builders to make sure the product and the subdivisions are unique.
“The central Florida area is ranked high when it comes to growth in the country, and people are coming from all over. Central Florida is becoming a high-tech spot, and this is diversifying the economy. Everybody thinks there are only tourism jobs here, but that’s not true,” he says.
“When the hospitality economy bottomed out over a decade ago, as a region, we realized we needed to diversify the different workforce clusters so that we’re not so dependent on hospitality,” Kirkegard said. “Since then, as a region, we’ve really excelled in a number of different areas.”
Kirkegard says that the City of Kissimmee is close enough to Orlando “to benefit when it comes to the military simulation, modeling and training cluster and in particular, BRIDG (Bridging the Innovation Development Gap). This private sector lead consortium will be contracted by companies from around the world, to research and develop the sensor technology they’re seeking.”
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer, Satya Nadella, was in Orlando at a recent conference and, “specifically said that sensors are the future of technology. For us, that’s exciting because that technology is going to be developed here in our very own backyard,” says Kirkegard. “It is just such a tremendous opportunity for advancement and job creation. We’re expecting tens of thousands of jobs to be housed at NeoCity – the campus where BRIDG is located. The City of Kissimmee area will become a major tech employment hub within Florida.”
There are many advantages to living in this amazing city. Of course, one of the benefits of living here is the weather. Locals here seem accustomed to the influx of newcomers every time the north has had a particularly bad spell.
Economics is another deciding factor. In Florida, there is no state personal income tax. Overall, the cost of living in Kissimmee is very reasonable, compared to a lot of other counties. There are some price increases happening in the cost of housing, for instance, but that is also a national trend and has not stopped the market from booming, either. Sales are the highest they have ever been and are still climbing.
“I was told by a developer that people buying houses today won’t get the keys to their house for about a year,” says Kirkegard. This is due to the high demand. Builders cannot keep up, and this is great news for growth.
In terms of target industries, the City has a lot on its to-do list. The City of Kissimmee owns an executive airport that handles general aviation. “We’ve got about one hundred acres of underdeveloped land around our airport that is right for aeronautical type companies,” Kirkegard says. “This year, we’re working with a consultant to create a targeted industries list specifically for aviation, and then, with that, we will refine economic development incentives for aviation companies to help offset some of their costs as they locate in the City of Kissimmee.”
Another sought-after industry is medical specialties. Last year in April, the city created a very successful medical arts district. It has two large hospitals that have collectedly spent over $200 million on campus expansions or increased service lines. They provide a great synergy to grow the local medical community.
It also intends to expand its ‘Open For Business’ campaign. In October 2012, MyRegion.org announced the City of Kissimmee as its first ‘Open for Business Streamlined Permitting Certified’ jurisdiction in Central Florida.
The City of Kissimmee has been working for several years to improve the development review and permitting process for businesses. This certification demonstrates the City of Kissimmee’s ongoing pro-business attitude and commitment to responding to the needs of an evolving development community. It also confirms its commitment to making the city a user-friendly and a prosperous place to do business, live and work in for all its current and future residents.