The President of the Chamber presents the economic development file to the municipal council

By Reggie Connell, Editor

In December 2019, Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce President Robert Agrusa and Mayor Bryan Nelson announced a partnership between the city and the chamber to attract more economic development to Apopka.

A lot has happened in these 13 months since the announcement.

Agrusa left the Chamber to become President and CEO of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, Cate Manley took over as CEO/Chair of the Chamber, and… well, there was this pandemic during a few years ?

Economic development became a central issue in the election of the mayor of Apopka. Nelson and Commissioner Kyle Becker debated the approach a city and mayor should take to economic development in Apopka. Becker challenges Nelson in the 2022 Apopka mayoral election. Becker called for a director or economic development department, while Nelson believes a mayor should act as his city’s economic development director , while also associating itself with the Chamber.

And at the January 19 city council meeting, Manley presented the most recent deliverables to move this partnership forward.

“As you may or may not remember, on April 21st, my second day on the job here in the community, I was able to come and showcase the first deliverable which was the growapopka.com website,” Manley said. is a collaborative website between the chamber and several investors who are part of the chamber and who are industry leaders in Apopka who have also invested in the partnership with the city to be able to create this website.”

Manley also distributed 500 Invest in Apopka flyers/circulars, and a sponsored article on Apopka in Florida Trend magazine, which, according to its media kit, has a print readership of 270,000 per issue and 135,000 unique visits to its online magazine per month.

Manley also presented an economic development video to Apopka featuring Nelson titled “Apopka: live, work and play”

Manley would also like to see an app for Apopka in the near future.

“I’d love to talk to you in the future about offering, collecting, and using a community-wide app,” she said. “Talking about partnerships where we could maybe do some sort of virtual tour, based on the app when people are doing the wildlife tour, and making sure that we connect our community that exists right now…our businesses are very far apart and if a community wide app and people go to the north west complex, are able to provide information and let people know that ‘they can come into town and have a sandwich or a beer or a coffee, that’s something that I laid the groundwork for. And those emails are collected by the organization that could help us get this started. community app.

Commissioner Doug Bankson was impressed with the new deliverables.

“I’m so excited, it’s such an important tool,” he said. “And before you can market something, you have to have the thing to market. I was on the committee when we started this and the point was nut soup, how does a business come and go by coming here? What brings them here, and it has everything from attraction to How if you haven’t seen the website, you know, please go. And it really speaks to the point now that we have to market it because we have the tool. And you know, it’s definitely a red carpet because it’s very well done, very well laid out, like you know who we are. Move the selecting your business site, target industries, special incentive areas, all the way down the list. And so that’s a great, great tool that we have to use.”

Commissioner Diane Velazquez looked beyond business development to create a workforce that lives in Apopka and attract more restaurants to the area.

“I know we’re building all these warehouses, and we’re getting a lot of business, but do companies bring in their own employees?” Velazquez asked. “Where do their employees come from? Do we have the manpower here at Apopka? Because the purpose we are trying to bring these businesses is to try and keep more residents in Apopka so some businesses will consider moving to Apopka, especially restaurants. It’s the one thing our residents always ask for. Bring us more restaurants. But I understand that the reason some restaurants don’t come is that we always leave Apopka to go to work. But are these employees our residents or do these employees from outside Apopka just come to work and then leave? So how are we trying to change this flow of residents in our city?”

But Manley said investors and companies considering moving to Apopka ask different questions.

“I will tell you that the first thing people tell me when they call or when we send information and get a response is if it is an organization or a large company or a “investors looking to come and build in Central Florida. Why would they come to Apopka? What is their interest? The first thing they asked me was our schools, and they asked me questions about the quality of our schools, from elementary, K-12. And then, of course, they asked me about our higher education and our workforce training.”

Manley is also working on higher education and workforce training opportunities for Apopka residents to attract more business.

“The chamber partnered with another nonprofit and applied for several different grants for workforce training,” she said. “We also went to the county to talk to them about the possibility of bringing in dollars for workforce training so that we can marry them off, we are looking at virtual programs that can be run on about 2,000 feet So when you have a manufacturing or SpaceX-like company that wants to build and also be here, how do we train our workforce and our people, our communities that are here right now, which would make sense in terms of training them to do some of these jobs. And the answer to that is training and accessibility to training. And luckily there’s a whole bunch of new technology. And there’s training systems who are out there and already out there in the market right now, here in Central Florida Because when I’m trying to attract business here, I have to know where they’re going to find their workforce, and I need to know where their family is going to live, and what bedridden life they will have, and how much they will pay for their water and sewer. Everything will come into play there. Those are all the questions they asked me.”

Manley also thinks the business environment in other states may play a role in Central Florida’s growth, but doesn’t think a lack of restaurants is slowing Apopka’s growth.

“A lot of the time it’s because the state they’re from isn’t as easy to work with right now,” Manley said. so is a big part of why people even gravitate to central Florida and then naturally move on here. Also, we’ve been getting a lot more attention lately, just because of the growth spurt and because of our interconnectedness. So that also happened. But again, the first thing, the first two things they ask of me is really the workforce and the schools, and probably the third thing is our green spaces. In all honesty, they really want to know that they can relax somewhere. That’s what they tell me, they mention restaurants less often. I think a lot of other communities across the country don’t have restaurant clusters in a row like some of our areas here in Central Florida. So people from out here don’t necessarily know that something that this community is so desperately waiting for because we know an amenity that we can drive up the hill for.”

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