Tech giant Apple corporate campus

Tech giant Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: APPL) announced on Jan. 17 that it’s seeking an American city in which to build a corporate campus that will create 20,000 jobs. Orlando’s economic development agency already is seeking a chance to submit a proposal to the iPhone maker.

Apple, which has a 14,000-square-foot office at the University Center at 11301 Corporate Blvd. near the University of Central , says the economic benefit will come through increased spending in manufacturing, capital expenditures, hiring and company tax payments, including about $38 billion in repatriation tax payments as part of recent changes to tax laws.

“The Orlando Economic Partnership certainly is interested in putting together a proposal for Apple, and we are in the process of learning more about the company’s needs,” said Laureen Martinez, senior director for marketing and communications for the city’s economic development agency.

Getting Apple would be a major deal — the same, if not bigger than landing Amazon’s HQ2. Amazon plans to invest $5 billion in a yet-to-be-selected.

While Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) would have been a big get for Central Florida, getting Apple would boost Orlando’s technology industry, too, said Chester Kennedy, CEO of BRIDG, the group that operates the $70 million, 109,000-square-foot Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Osceola County. “Apple is a huge magnet to convene and elevate the tech industry. Our region will gain by having them locate here, especially since this leverages the strengths of our existing targeted industries and brings awareness to those that don’t already know ‘the other half’ of our story.”

The story he’s referring to is the fact that Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center anchors NeoCity, a 500-acre tech campus in Osceola County, which is a blank canvas for elite tech companies to expand and capitalize on the growing Internet of Things industry. The center will focus on producing smart sensors — tiny microchips that connect everyday items to the internet for data analysis. Smart sensors are something that Apple uses often in its products from its iPhone to smart watches.

Kennedy was aware of how useful Apple could be in Central Florida before the company made the announcement that it was searching for a city to in which to expand. “In fact, I and the team from the Orlando Economic Partnership met with Apple representatives at their headquarters last year to discuss the value of increasing their presence here in Central Florida. Of course it would be a big deal for us as they are big integrators of sensors in their devices. With an Apple location, Central Florida will gain even more momentum in the world of smart sensors and the Internet of Things.”

However, getting Apple will be difficult, much like competing for Amazon, which involved 238 proposals from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. “This will be another coveted trophy in competition with a lot of cities in the country to get this next Moby Dick of a headquarters,” said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. “Amazon would have been a major game changer in the line of Disney World for the region, but you can’t cry over spilled prime memberships.”

Local tech leaders agreed that lessons can be learned from losing Amazon. “The criteria Amazon had, which included access to an airport and a region with a million residents, we clearly fulfill,” said Carlos Carbonell, CEO of Orlando-based Echo Interaction Group. “An important aspect was the region’s ability to attract tech talent. This is the aspect we not only can work better at, but demonstrate that we can attract tech talent and then follow through on our plans.”

Carbonell further recommended the city gather insights from other local leaders previously from cities where big companies like Amazon and Apple are located. “If the product is ‘Orlando as a place to relocate a to,’ then let’s leverage local voices and perspectives. We need to introspect what proportion of programs and career tracks our academic institutions focus on for training that can help us become a more prepared city. If we are not ready for Amazon today, we can be within a few years.”

Snaith agreed with Carbonell, saying the local workforce may not have been large enough, but public transportation is also something the region needs help with. “Transportation is under improvement right now with Brightline, but I don’t think Lynx has a dedicated source of funding and that is something we need to pay attention to.”

Snaith also said a lack of incentives may have played a big factor in not making the Amazon HQ2 shortlist. “Until we see what the final deal looks like, if this is driven by incentive packages, Florida may need to revisit its stance on incentives.”

However, “being in the consideration for Amazon really helped us. Being in the game brought together various groups across the region to talk and cooperate at a new level. This left us in a much better place to cooperatively pursue future opportunities,” Kennedy said. “I’m convinced we all gain if Miami stays in the [running], although not as much as we would have gained if a Central Florida site was still in consideration.”

Snaith also is confident that even if Orlando loses out on Apple, there will be other opportunities. “From the tax reform law, money will be coming back to the U.S. and a lot more companies will be looking to expand and invest in the U.S. down the road.”

7 things to know today and Orlando housing market


Good morning, Orlando!

It was a good year for Orlando-area Home Sales, says Allyn Maycumber of WeKnowNona, as both home sales and the median price showed increases over the year-ago period, the Orlando Regional Realtor Association reports.

Home sales last year totaled 37,198, an uptick of 3.8% above 2016’s 35,829. In addition, Orlando’s annual median home price of $220,000 is 10% higher than the 2016 annual median price of $200,000.

ORRA President Lou Nimkoff said the median price was driven during 2017 primarily by a combination of strong buyer demand and very low inventory levels, and “Realtors expect prices to continue their upward trend in 2018, albeit at a slower rate.”

“We also expect low inventory to continue to exert its influence on the market in 2018, especially in the highly desired lower-priced categories,” said Nimkoff. “In fact, the lack of affordable housing in Orlando is a concern that Realtors anticipate will be at the forefront of community discussion in 2018.”

Meanwhile, a look at sales county by county shows Lake County was 7.2% above 2016; Orange County, 2.8%; Osceola County, 7.9%; and Seminole County, 3.8% below 2016.

And be sure to check out these other Tuesday headlines:


Rumor: A new Orlando theme park to be announced in 2018 

Disney Springs lands among New York Times’ top places to visit in 2018

Lucky’s Market to open its 2nd C. Fla. store, hire 150 people

Lucky’s Market, a natural foods grocer, plans to open its second Central Florida store this spring in a 30,000-square-foot space at 1720 E. Highway 50 in Clermont that formerly was occupied by Sweetbay Supermarket. More here.

Here’s what ULA is shooting to space in January from Florida’s Space Coast

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 18,between 7:40-8:20 p.m., carrying a missile detection satellite to orbit. Click here to see photos of what ULA is shooting into space.

Orlando International Airport food vendor to hire 145 new workers

Beverage and food provider for traveler HMS Host, the Orlando International Airport’s primary food concessionaire, will host a job fair this week to hire 145 people. The in-person hiring event will be on Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. More here.

Orlando gas prices face upward pressure

Area gas prices are holding steady, but there is upward pressure on prices at the pump due to rising oil prices, AAA said. The most expensive gas in Florida is in West Palm Beach-Boca Raton ($2.58) and Miami ($2.53). The least expensive gas price averages in Florida are in Orlando ($2.39), Jacksonville ($2.39) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ($2.39).

Equifax was 2017’s most-complained-about finance company

Atlanta-based Equifax Inc., which was hit with a massive hacker attack last year, not surprisingly received the most consumer complaints in 2017, a new report says. In fact, in 49 states (every one except North Dakota) Equifax (NYSE: EFX) received the most complaints.

Whirlpool, Apple partner on home appliance front

Whirlpool Corp. and Apple Inc. will now be involved in how consumers use their home appliances. Whirlpool, the Benton harbor, Mich.-based maker of consumer appliances, said Apple Watch users will be able to control various home appliances later this year. More here.

List of Central Florida’s best-performing stocks

An insulation products firm and two timeshare companies firms saw the three biggest increases in their stock prices among Central ‘s biggest publicly traded companies in 2017.

TopBuild Corp. (NYSE: BLD), Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. (NYSE: HGV) and Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp. (NYSE: VAC) all saw their stocks rise more than 50 percent in a year when the stock market experienced record highs.

Most of Central Florida’s publicly listed companies performed well amid broader stock market gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased more than 5,000 points in 2017, the first time in the index’s history, and was up more than 25 percent on yearly basis.

But despite most the gains, some of Central Florida’s largest publicly traded companies — SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: SEAS), Goldfield Corp. (AMEX: GV) and National Retail Properties (NYSE: NNN) — reported losses.

SeaWorld Entertainment, which is Central Florida’s seventh-largest publicly traded company based on 2016 revenue, saw its stock price decline 28 percent in 2017 after its attendance declined amid increasing competition from Walt Disney World and Universal Resort. Investors also soured on the company after it lost its focus when it came under fire for its treatment of its animals.

Miami based-Opko Health had the biggest decline of any publicly traded company in Florida that had market capitalization of more than $100 million. Run by billionaire Phillip Frost, Opko Health’s stock dropped about 47 percent after reporting disappointing earnings due to sluggish sales of its prostate cancer test product and its kidney disease drug.

Yet, most Central Florida stocks performed well. Notably, TopBuild saw its stock price jump more than 100 percent in 2017. The company expects activity to pick up even more as rebuilding begins in Florida and Texas following the busy hurricane season. Further, low interest rates and the strong are creating more demand for housing, outpacing the current supply.

Niche grocer Earth Fare kicks off construction in Lake Nona area

Niche grocer Earth Fare Inc.’s first location has broken ground in the Lake Nona area and is set to open this summer.

General contractor J. Raymond Corp. began work late last year on the 70,000-square-foot Shoppes at Nona Place, which Earth Fare will anchor.

Good Healthy eats

Earth Fare

Earth Fare, touted as a health and wellness supermarket, is sure to draw a healthy crowd, as it has many organic and vegan offerings and promises that its foods are free of:

  • Added hormones
  • Artificial fats and trans fats
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Bleached or bromated flour
  • Antibiotics
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Artificial preservatives
  • Artificial colors or flavors

The project on the southeast corner of Narcoossee and Tyson roads is expected to create more than 100 temporary construction jobs.

Palm Beach Gardens-based Blackfin Partners joined forces with Canadian firm North American Development Group to build the estimated $10.5 million specialty neighborhood retail complex just south of High School.

Fletcher, N.C.-based Earth Fare and Sunrise-based Pet Supermarket Inc. are among the first two tenants to finalize leases in the shopping center. Pet Supermarket will take 7,000 square feet.

The shopping center also will feature Heartland Dental, which will take roughly half the space in a 6,000-square-foot building it will share with local company Lee Nails & Spa.

Two more endcap spaces are available, along with two nearly 1-acre outparcels that can accommodate up to 6,000 square feet of space and a nearly 4,500-square-foot fast-food restaurant building.


7 things to know today and Orlando moves up on best-performing cities list

Good morning, !

Metro Orlando jumped up two places in an annual ranking released Wednesday by California-based Milken Institute that measures economic growth.

The City Beautiful came in at No. 7 on the institute’s list of the top 200 large U.S. metro areas — up from No. 9 last year.

The only other Florida metro to best us was North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, which saw a huge leap from No. 26 last year to No. 6 this year.

Milken Institute’s index looks at how well the country’s metro areas create and sustain jobs as well as each’s economic growth. Published since 1999, the index looks at nine metrics to evaluate the growth of a metro area, including changes in jobs, wages and salaries in addition to technology output.

Milken Institute said its results can be used as an “objective benchmark for examining the underlying factors and identifying unique characteristics of economic growth in metropolitan areas.”

See the full rankings here.

And be sure to check out these other Thursday headlines:

$89M downtown Orlando luxury apartment tower to break ground in Q2

Another high-end apartment complex soon will dot Orlando’s skyline near Lake Eola, joining a roster of projects such as the under- Modera at Mills Creek and Aspire. More here on the 300,000-square-foot project.

Johnson & Johnson changes hiring plan for regional HQ in Lake Nona

Here are five Walt Disney World projects to follow in 2018

2018 of Sports

Jan. 19

Disney Springs lands among NY Times’ top 52 places to visit in 2018

Disney Springs is among several U.S. spots on a newly released New York Times list of the 52 Places to Go in 2018. The list was selected based on suggestions from regular contributors to the Times’ Travel section that are then narrowed down based on why 2018 is the time to visit a particular place.

12 tech firms hiring 300 Central Florida workers

Attention all job seekers: Video game, data analytics, IT and rocket firms all have high-wage, high-tech jobs available — some paying more than $77,000 a year. To see a quick lineup of which firm firms are hiring, how many positions are available and a few of the job titles, click here.

Feds drop plan to allow drilling off Florida coast

Florida waters were removed Tuesday from White House plansto open previously protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling. The move spurred questions about whether the quick decision and manner of announcement by the Trump administration were done to further Scott’s political career.

Coca-Cola launches Diet Coke ‘brand rejuvenation,’ adds 4 new ‘bold’ flavors

The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) said Wednesday that it was re-launching the 35-year-old Diet Coke with a “bold new look, a fresh attitude” and four new flavors: Diet Coke Ginger Lime, Diet Coke Feisty Cherry, Diet Coke Zesty Blood Orange and Diet Coke Twisted Mango. The all new packaging and flavors hit store shelves this month. More here.

Sears will consider ‘all other options’ after dismal holiday season

Sears and Kmart store sales plummeted almost 17% during the holiday season as it considers “all other options” to stay in business. The company plans on renegotiating $1 billion in debt by extending due-date on some loans and altering terms on other loans. The retailer said it expects to return to profitability this year. More here.