2021 State of County address: Orange County recovers from COVID-19 pandemic

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In his 2021 State of the County address, Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings highlighted the challenges Orange County faced during the global COVID-19 pandemic but also focused on looking toward the future and building a community that works for everyone.

Demings gave the address on Friday, June 4, at the Orange County Convention Center to a hybrid audience of in-person and virtual attendees, a change from the virtual-only address in 2020.

Here are five key takeaways from the State of the County address:

An overall rebound
According to the mayor’s address, in 2020 during the pandemic, the region’s unemployment rate peaked at 22.6 percent, and flights to the metro area plummeted by 97 percent. Today, unemployment is estimated at 5.6 percent, and Orlando International Airport is once again one of the top five busiest airports in the nation. By rethinking budget priorities, Orange County government is maintaining long-term financial health. Fitch Ratings ranked Orange County with its highest credit rating – a AAA designation.

Orange CARES Act funds
More than 90 percent of Orange County’s $243 million of federal CARES Act funds went back into the hands of residents, including $69 million for small and home-based businesses, $67 million for individuals and families, $11 million for social-service agencies, $8 million for emergency food assistance, and $7 million for job-training programs. Additionally, the county distributed more than 25 million face masks and 1 million bottles of hand sanitizer throughout the community.

Economic recovery
The economy is recovering, with KPMG’s and Amazon’s recent expansions being a positive indicator of the appeal Orange County has to investors. The county established the first Housing Trust Fund to invest $10 million annually in public-private partnerships focused on the development of affordable and workforce housing. Madison Landing and Hawthorn Park are two examples of successful affordable developments. Additionally, the county launched its Industry Diversification Cluster Initiative as part of its economic stimulus strategy to spur job creation in industry sectors beyond tourism and hospitality.

Community and culture
Orange County has continued to focus on its community and culture throughout the pandemic. The county’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Initiative provided year-round programing focused on social reform, personal and financial health, literacy and volunteerism. Additionally, more than $3 million was allocated to local arts organizations to help safely reopen performance stages and welcome back patrons.

Public safety
Orange County has continued to host events while keeping residents and guests safe during the pandemic. In the third quarter of this year, revenues for the Orange County Convention Center are projected to be the highest since the pandemic began. The Convention Center has booked 84 shows with 930,000 attendees and more than 1.3 million in room nights.

Along with rapidly deploying COVID-19 tests and vaccines thanks to collaborative partnerships, Orange County was one of the first Florida counties to lower the COVID-19 vaccine age requirement in response to growing demand, as well as to create a mobile vaccination program for underserved communities.