2017 Business Leaders of the Year | Economic Development
When Don Fisher became Osceola County Manager in 2010, he was aware the county had gone through an alarming number of managers in recent years and needed to start thinking strategically and long-term. To do this, he began formulating a strategic plan with his district commissioners. They endeavored to create action plans, keep them updated and have all county employees working towards the same goals.
“One of our biggest priorities was to enhance economic development,” he said. “At the time, we had the highest unemployment rate and lowest per capita income in the entire seven-county region, and we knew we needed to change this.”
A county-commissioned cluster study indicated that medical manufacturing and research were two industry sectors that could help Osceola create economic diversity and higher-wage jobs, so Fisher and county commissioners began laying the groundwork for making it happen. In 2014, when Orlando Economic Development Commission (now Orlando Economic Partnership) President and CEO Rick Weddle presented Fisher with an opportunity to establish the world’s first industry-led smart sensor consortium (BRIDG) in his own backyard, Fisher immediately recommended, and the county commission voted unanimously, to provide $60 million of the local share needed to pay for the development of a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility with cutting-edge equipment.
“We told the EDC we had been waiting for them to come to us with this,” said Fisher. “We had already acquired 350 acres at no cost to the county through an agreement with a local developer, and we were prepared to develop the partnerships necessary in order to honor our commitment.”
BRIDG, which officially opened in March 2017, and NeoCity, the planned technology district that will surround it, are well on the way to becoming a significant global center for smart sensor, photonics and nanotechnology research and development with a long-term economic output between $25 and $28 billion.
In total, Osceola County has contributed cash and in-kind contributions of land and development requirements totaling more than $170 million. The county’s dedication to the success of BRIDG has played a large role in other partners seeing the vision and wanting to share in it. Osceola will see the greatest economic impact, but the ripples of research and advanced manufacturing will be felt throughout the state.
When IMEC, a Belgian nanotechnology research firm, decided to join forces with BRIDG in 2016, it put a stamp on the high level of credibility of the consortium. Currently, BRIDG is in talks with 70 companies, several of which could also become partners. It is also estimated the consortium will create 20,000 new high-paying jobs.
Fisher admits the hard work is ongoing, as the county continues to work with UCF, BRIDG and the state legislature to ensure the continued success of the venture. The work, he says, has been well worth it, as having the world’s leading nanotechnology consortium in Osceola County is a huge win for the entire region.
“If we can leverage NeoCity with Medical City and downtown Orlando’s Creative Village, it will make our region a strong competitor in luring companies like Amazon here,” he added. “We still need to tell our story and share our unique value proposition effectively, but at least we have a compelling story to tell.”
As county manager, Fisher has other pressing issues to deal with, such as creating affordable housing options, dealing with the influx of displaced individuals and families as a result of the recent hurricanes, and working with the Walt Disney Company on a pilot project for an autonomous rapid transit system. He believes the key to Osceola’s success is managing growth and ensuring it is positive growth.
“Awesome people live here, and when the day is done, I want to have played a part in growing the economy and making Osceola County a better place to live and work,” he said. “The fact my 9-year-old daughter can someday get a great high-paying job in this county is what motivates me to do what I do every day.”