An extra penny: The right move at the right time

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This community owes a debt of gratitude to the Orange County Commission and to the countless community leaders who have labored and lobbied extensively over the past three years to effectuate the obvious: a 1-cent increase in the hotel tax to provide additional advertising for the tourism-services industry and to directly benefit the Central Florida community itself.

Local government leaders, civic organizations, regional initiatives and business leaders from within and outside tourism have all worked long and hard to support what is clearly the right move at the right time.

In the first instance, the capital investment this increase will help fund will produce three critical community assets, the contribution from which cannot be seriously debated.

A world-class performing-arts center will enrich our lives with exposure to new arts and entertainment programming and all but eliminate for good what is perceived to be “a cultural gap” in Central Florida perpetuated opportunistically by competitive communities in search of companies seeking to relocate.

A new arena is not about subsidizing a billionaire. It is about providing a world-class facility, housing a competitive NBA franchise less than one third of the time and top-notch entertainment and arena-sized events for our residents the rest of the time.

And a refurbished Citrus Bowl will attract national and international sports and entertainment events as well as recapture the enormous revenue opportunities currently enriching other cities such as Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami.

At the very least, with one stroke of its pen, the County Commission has set in motion a series of events that will have an enormous impact on the quality of life for each and every one of us who calls Central Florida home, along with the countless visitors who will have the opportunity to come here, experience here, and of course, spend here, for an endless array of reasons.

However, as strong as that case is for the contribution the community venues will offer us, there is an equally strong case based on its profound impact on our economy.

The tourism-services industry is to 2006 what agriculture was to Central Florida in 1966: a major economic driver. No doubt, tourism will continue to be so during the next 40 years. However, by turning attention to improving the quality of our lives, this community investment cements high-value, high-wage job growth.

Employers, both home-grown and relocated, care about quality-of-life considerations for themselves and their employees. This initiative, especially when eventually coupled with education enhancement, addresses those considerations.

In technology, in life sciences, in health care, in university research, our opportunity is to supplement tourism’s formidable and sustainable 4 percent year-over-year growth with the 25 percent annual growth encountered in these high-value, high-wage industry classifications.

That means a more diversified economy and a more invulnerable market for high-quality, high-paying jobs. In short, it translates to a higher standard of living for the entire community.

To be sure, there’s an enormous amount of heavy lifting to be done. That 1 cent is not going to carry what will be in excess of a $1 billion community commitment over the next 10 to 15 years. However, it represents a reliable cash-flow stream both private enterprise and philanthropy can embrace and supplement. And as significantly, it represents a profound commitment by the region’s leadership to refuse to accept anything but the world-class status we have earned as the most renowned tourist destination in the world.

Let’s make sure our government and civic leaders feel the full force of the community’s support behind them when they begin the hard process of establishing a cogent financial plan and developing a rational implementation program embracing our diverse community needs and opportunities. They will need to hear from you. Will you join me in supporting them at this critical juncture?

It is an exciting time to be in Central Florida. It will be even more exciting to see who we will become 15 years from now.

 

Laurence J. Pino is the founder and CEO of Orlando-based Dynetech Corp., an executive member of the Board of Governors of the Orlando Chamber of Commerce, on the Governor’s Council of the EDC, and co-chair of the Economic Leadership Implementation Team for myregion.org.