By: Carlos Carbonell
Echo interaction Group
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ fourth State of the County was held at the historic Church Street Ballroom in June. While she captivated the audience with her message of transformation, just outside of the venue her vision of transformation was busily underway.
Earlier that morning and just steps away from the Ballroom, the nation’s newest commuter rail system, SunRail, dropped off guests to the Mayor’s annual gathering of community and business leaders. Just a few blocks from Church Street, the construction of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts continues to build anticipation, with its grand opening scheduled just in time for the 2014 holiday season. Central Florida’s new soccer-centric stadium will soon house the country’s newest Major League Soccer team, the Orlando City Soccer Club. Additionally, Central Florida will be home to some of the country’s most well-known football bowls, games and concerts when the reconstruction of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium is unveiled this fall. Couple those accomplishments with the Lake Nona’s Medical City, the new Orlando VA Medical Center, a robust Modeling and Training cluster along with a record breaking 59 million visitors last year, and it’s evident that Orange County has officially entered the Year of Transformation.
Here’s a look inside Mayor Jacobs’ plans for the future and how our thriving Hispanic business community has played a significant role in shaping her vision and our region:
Economic development continues to be a priority for the county. How has Orange County fostered its relationship with our Hispanic entrepreneurs and business community?
It is a very exciting time in Orange County. The historic momentum we have collectively created together with the Chamber continues on our path of transformation as we expand our jobs base and business development, particularly in our Hispanic community.
My No. 1 priority continues to be growing our economy and job creation. In 2013, Orange County funded more than $1 million dollars in economic development programs for businesses within the County. For this reason, we continue to enthusiastically partner with organizations like the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund (HBIF), which assists Hispanic entrepreneurs in establishing their businesses. In fact, Orange County has provided over $123,000 to HBIF for its programs this year. One out of five businesses are Hispanic-owned in the Orlando-metro area, with over $7 billion in total receipts.
We were also very excited to play an instrumental role in the creation of the Central Florida International Trade Office (CFITO). Earlier this year, Orange County provided $65,000 to fund CFITO, which was matched by JPMorgan Chase. CFITO will serve as a hub for local entrepreneurs seeking exporting opportunities and international companies interested in doing business in Central Florida.
In May, I was excited to join Titan Products of Puerto Rico for the grand opening of their distribution center in Orlando. Titan will provide over 200 hundred products for consumers throughout the region, while creating good jobs. I was also part of the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico’s groundbreaking ceremony for its expansion in Orange County. The university’s new building will feature a three-story structure consisting of classroom space and engineering laboratories that will meet the standards implemented by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Programs (ABET).
The Hispanic Chamber has spearheaded efforts to facilitate access for Puerto Rican companies to enter the Central Florida market, and that work is starting to bear fruit.
Orange County also works in partnership with the State of Florida to offer economic incentives that facilitate job creation.
You seem to share a special kinship with the Hispanic community. Why is that?
I grew up in Miami during a time when the community was changing rapidly. Our neighbors moved from all over the country and the world to make their home in Florida. Although it was difficult for many to adjust to life in a new city, I saw how hard our neighbors worked to make a positive impact in our community. I see that here in Orange County and I am so proud of where we are as a community.
Orange County’s population stands at over 1.2 million residents and almost 30 percent of our population is Hispanic. We have a richly diverse population with families that come from so many countries and wonderful cultures. The contributions and economic impact they have in our region is both outstanding and inspiring. You can enjoy home-cooked meals at so many local Puerto Rican restaurants and we can all agree that our Colombian bakeries are just to die for!
Besides bringing a little bit of home to Orange County, we are witnessing the rise of Hispanic professionals in business and government who bring with them a fresh new perspective in their leadership positions. I see their contributions first hand in the citizens that I have appointed to volunteer boards. Hispanics are making their mark in Orange County and working selflessly to improve and serve our community.
We know you as Mayor Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer of Orange County. What is life like outside the office?
Without question my most favorite job has been that of a wife and mom. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband Bruce and we have been married for 33 years. Both of us are so proud of our four kids. The three oldest have graduated from college and have started their careers. Our youngest is a senior at Florida State University, my alma mater. I graduated Cum Laude with a degree in economics.
I am in constant contact with my kids. This generation is just so much more engaged in the world around them, much more than I was at their age. The desire to serve and be active in the community is remarkable and I am encouraged about our future because of their passion, their strong convictions to do what is right and their commitment to service. Our neighbors helping neighbors philosophy, the desire to lead and give back, that’s extremely encouraging and I am so proud of the direction they are headed. My kids, this generation, they are the leaders of tomorrow, and their potential is so promising.
I’ve heard you have a green thumb and you do a little bit of gardening?
Absolutely! We’ve harvested tomatoes, zucchini, onions, lettuce, just enough for a good salad. In the rare occasion that I do have some spare time, you can find me in the garden tending to the vegetables. It’s very relaxing. We’re even raising honeybees!
You’ve been speaking Spanish in some of your speeches, and you’ve done great!
A: Thank you! I’ve been able to practice every day with people I know. Whenever I have a few minutes in between meetings, I listen to Spanish lessons and that’s been helpful. I’ve also been watching a Spanish-learning series called Destinos, with a plot setup telenovela style. I also have four Spanish-speaking staff in my office, and I keep them on their toes quizzing them with phrases and questions in Spanish.
With the growth of our community, it just makes sense to be able to serve residents in their native language. We’re making great strides in that effort in Orange County, with bilingual staff in our departments as well as my monthly newsletter and other materials made available in Spanish. I’m truly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in connecting with our residents.