Reining in Orlando's runaway growth. After years of aiding development, Florida must manage it
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Another area that seems to demand attention is housing -- specifically, housing for the thousands of low-paid service employees that staff Orlando's booming tourist trade.Skip to next paragraph
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``If we want to maintain that service labor force, we will have to meet their housing needs,'' acknowledges Linda Chapin, a vice-president of the Pioneer Savings Bank in Winter Park and executive director of the Project 2000 task force, an assemblage of local leaders who convened a few years ago to address the region's long-term needs.
At present, there's plenty of housing for middle-class families, as a drive around the area or a look through the Orlando Sentinel's real estate pages reveals. Countless new housing developments, with prices of $75,000 and up, lure the newcomer with such nostalgic come-ons as ``irresistably New England.'' But they're ``way beyond service sector people,'' says Dr. Foglesong. It's difficult to find an apartment for less than $350 to $400 a month, he says.
An alternate view on housing comes from Warren McHone, an economist at the University of Central Florida. He asserts there's probably ``more housing at the lower end here than elsewhere.'' He notes, too, the ``very competitive construction industry here. If there is the slightest profit margin to be made from that construction [low-income housing], it'll be built and be done quickly.''
Abe Pizam, another University of Central Florida economist, points out that one of the shakiest aspects of growth in the Orlando area is its reliance on a single industry -- tourism. He's a specialist on that industry, but says ``I'd be the first to admit that any economythat depends on one product only will be in serious trouble.''
``Fortunately, there's not much residents can do to destroy tourism here,'' he observes, though weather and fluctuating currency exchange rates can have adverse short-term effects. One thing that could make the area less attractive for families, he adds, would be the legalization of casino gambling -- something that has been talked about in Florida for a number of years but has not won voter approval.
A number of high-tech electronics manufacturers have located here in recent years, drawn by the same temperate climate, highway network, and supply of cheap labor that lured Disney 15 years ago. But such companies are still a very small factor locally. High-tech firms provide only about 6 to 7 percent of the jobs in the Orlando area, notes Dr. McHone.
Transportation, housing, and industrial mix are but three elements in a complex pattern of change. ``The rate of growth here, the explosion of growth, and the extent to which they were unprepared for it is unusual, but not that unusual,'' says the ULI's Mr. Porter. Orlando is ``just a well-publicized example of something that's happening in increments in a lot of places,'' he adds.
The changes occurring here, agrees political scientist Fogelsong, ``reflect what's going on broadly in the whole nation.''
And what's going on, he says, is a new industrial revolution -- the decline of heavy industry and the rise of the high-tech and service industries. To his mind, Orlando provides ``a vantage point for seeing just how well this revolution is working.''