Demings highlights county’s successes

Mayor Jerry L. Demings highlighted last year’s accomplishments and discussed the future of the county through this year’s theme — “Building Better Together.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings delivered his sixth annual State of the County address Friday, June 7, at the Orange County Convention Center.
Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings delivered his sixth annual State of the County address Friday, June 7, at the Orange County Convention Center.
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Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings delivered his sixth annual State of the County address Friday, June 7, at the Orange County Convention Center.

The mayor highlighted last year’s accomplishments and discussed the future of the county through this year’s theme — “Building Better Together.”

Demings touched on an array of topics, including economic and financial; tourism and hospitality; affordable housing and homelessness; transportation; technology and science; and sports, arts and culture.

“We’ve had a year of remarkable achievements and continued strong economic growth,” Demings said. “It’s been a year filled with opportunities, challenges and significant milestones that have helped shape our community.”  


Central Florida remains the state’s fastest growing region.

Today, Orange County has more than 1.5 million residents, with 400 new people moving to the area each week. 

By 2050, the county expects to add another 700,000 residents, which will increase the population to more than 2 million. 

Demings said the growth will continue to add pressure on the county’s infrastructure and social services. 

Last year, the county issued more than 80,000 permits with a development value of $2.2 billion.

Demings said tourism and hospitality continue to be the primary economic drivers in the community. 

Orange County welcomed 74 million visitors generating a $87.6 billion economic impact in 2023. Nearly 40% of the region’s workforce serves in tourism. 

Multi-million dollar projects are planned for the theme parks to continue to draw visitors. 

For example, Universal Epic Universe is set to open next summer. Universal also plans to open new attractions this summer and debut Sensational, a nighttime fountain show with drones and a 4K video projection over the park’s lagoon. 

At Walt Disney World, expansions at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdoms are in the works.

Disney is planning what could be the largest Magic Kingdom expansion ever on a site west of Frontierland or “Beyond Big Thunder.” At Animal Kingdom, an area will be transformed into a Tropical Americas land. Later this month, the reimagined Splash Mountain will open as “Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.”

Disney representatives have announced their intentions to invest $17 billion into its parks and resorts over the next 20 years years. 

SeaWorld Orlando, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023, soon will open “Penguin Trek,” a new roller coaster, while Gatorland, the area’s first theme park, celebrated its 75th anniversary this year.

In March, the Tourist Development Tax Collections also hit a record $40 million, the highest monthly collection since the inception of the tax. The TDT reserves have climbed to $388 million as of April. 

This year, the Board of County Commissioners approved three projects for TDT funding, which include Phase 5 of the Convention Center, upgrades to the Camping World Stadium and a tower at the University of Central Florida’s football stadium. 


Some of Orange County’s biggest challenges are affordable housing, homelessness and transportation.

Demings said addressing affordable housing has been one of his top priorities since he took office in 2018.

As one of only a few counties in Florida with a Housing Trust Fund, the County Commission has committed more than $160 million to address housing needs.

Orange County also has helped fuel affordable-housing initiatives through public-private partnerships. 

These include Catchlight Crossings with partners Universal Resorts and Wendover Housing. The 1,000-unit housing community is a first-of-its-kind affordable housing solution that will transform 20 acres of land in the International Drive area into workforce housing with on-site amenities and services. The project is expected to open in 2026. 

The commission also approved recently Walt Disney World’s plans to build 1,400 affordable housing units on 80 acres in West Orange County. The community will be uniquely designed to complement the surrounding area and provide amenities focusing on wellness.


Following Hurricane Ian, Orange County received $219 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding. 

Demings said most of the funding will be used for Hurricane Ian-related projects to benefit low to moderate income individuals or areas.  

The county has hosted a multitude of community meetings throughout the districts to develop a comprehensive plan to address unmet needs pertaining to storm impacts. 

The needs highlighted include infrastructure improvements, housing repairs, job training, mental health counseling, small business loans and flood mitigation efforts. 

Over the last two years, Orange County also has allocated more than $240 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding across crucial areas, including small business assistance, health services and public safety, and increasing access to broadband. 

More recently, the BCC allocated the remaining $23 million to provide additional financing for select projects, including affordable housing, mental health and homelessness, food insecurity, and medical debt relief.  


In addition to opening recently two new fire stations, one being in West Orange County, Orange County Fire Rescue broke ground on a new state-of-the-art training facility.

The Fire Rescue Department also launched the Blood Transfusion program in partnership with its EMS director and local hospitals. OCFR is the first fire department to offer the lifesaving program in Central Florida.

The Orange County Citizens Task Force also reconvened last year to review current crime trends and update past recommendations to address today’s needs. The county continues to support violence prevention initiatives, with most of the funding going to small, grassroots nonprofit organizations. 

Overall, the county dedicates nearly $89 million annually to provide more than 500 programs and services for individuals and families. 

Mental- and behavioral-health disorders are topics county leaders continue to discuss.

Over the next 15 years, Orange County will receive more than $60 million in opioid settlement funding to implement treatment programs. 

The Sheriff’s Behavioral Response Unit and the Orlando Police Department’s Community Response team continue to respond to individuals in a mental health crisis and provide opportunities for support. 

Demings said Orange County has identified a $49 million funding gap in meeting the needs for mental- and behavioral-health sciences, and the county is contributing $10 million annually to help close the gap. 


Demings said parks and recreation spaces also are essential to growing the community. 

The county’s GreenPLACE program is one of the most impactful conservation initiatives in Florida. The BCC approved $100 million to preserve the area’s natural habitats in 2021. To date, the county has acquired 24,000 acres and opened more than 18,000 acres to the public for recreation. With the county’s sustainability plan, the goal is to acquire double this amount of environmentally sensitive lands.

This year, Orange County Parks and Recreation is celebrating its 100th anniversary. There are 113 parks and trails in the county with more than 14 million visitors annually. 

Orlando also was ranked the No. 1 sports business city in America by the Sports Business Journal. The U.S. Olympic Marathon men’s and women’s trials, as well as the NFL Pro Bowl both were held in Orlando this year. In addition, the University of Central Florida’s Knights became the nation’s youngest program in the Power Five conference, and the Orlando Magic succeeded in making the Eastern Conference playoffs.

When it comes to arts, more than 40 organizations were recognized with cultural and tourism grants totaling $4.2 million made possible by TDT.

The BCC significantly increased funding for arts and cultural organizations by allocating $75 million for capital projects. Funding for various cultural tourism grants has increased to more than $11 million per year. 

“We are building better together through partnerships in affordable housing, public safety and transportation,” Demings said. “We are building better together by supporting innovation, collaboration and inclusion. We are building together by increasing access to behavioral health services. We are building better together by preserving and sustaining our environment. We are building better together by embracing diversity and promoting arts and culture that uplift our community. If you want to live in a better community, we can only build better together.”



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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