Officials of Manatee’s new Certified Destination Ambassador Program hope to attract visitors to county hot spots such as Anna Maria Island.

The Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the University of Central Florida’s Dick Pope Senior Institute for Tourism Studies joined forces to create the Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key Certified Destination Ambassador Program, the first of its kind in Florida. The institute is housed in UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. The bureau worked closely with the research arm of Rosen to develop the professional development program. Steps to becoming a Certified Destination Ambassador include attending Ambassador summits, recruiting other ambassadors within industries and creating personal plans to influence return visitation to the area. In addition, ambassadors are asked to support the bureau and the Ambassador Program by using social media to promote the area, along with displaying the Ambassador identification at business locations and actively representing the area.


The Board of County Commissioners finished obtaining public input on the county’s future transportation system, including an online survey for residents. The purpose of the survey was to identify the characteristics of, and steps toward building, the county’s future transportation system. According to Jeff Hays, the county’s transportation planning manager, soliciting feedback was a “positive community-wide dialogue on developing a transportation system that makes Alachua County a community where people like to live and work.” Presentation of the survey findings to commissioners, along with comments from the community-wide transportation summit, was scheduled in early June.


Residents of Melbourne are now able to ride Route 24 for free. The route joins the free fares offered on Route 21 and Route 1 (within the city of Melbourne). Melbourne and Space Coast Area Transit have a long-standing relationship in providing funding for public transportation in the city. Proof of residency is required when boarding the bus. Route 24 (Melbourne) operates from Melbourne Square Mall and travels along sections of major roads, including Hibiscus Boulevard, Airport Boulevard, Apollo Boulevard, Sarno Road, Croton Road, Eau Gallie Boulevard, Wickham Road, Aurora Road and John Rodes Boulevard. Space Coast Area Transit, a department of Brevard County Board of County Commissioners, operates 24 buses on 16 fixed routes from Mims to Malabar. In fiscal year 2011-2012, Space Coast Area Transit carried slightly more than 2 million passengers, with the count expected to exceed 2.2 million in fiscal year 2012-2013.


County officials are preparing a study for a segment of North Lecanto Highway. The segment, designated as the CR-491 Corridor Planning Study, extends from State Road 44 north to County Road 486. The study will identify needed improvements in order to provide a strategic planning approach, which will guide development along the corridor, including a widening. The study will provide information on travel necessities, public water and sewer amenities, comprehensive stormwater management systems, and other essential utility services. As part of the process, a second citizens’ workshop took place in mid May, with the focus on infrastructure issues, challenges and opportunities.


The DeSoto County Economic Development Office has identified cleantech, life sciences and information technology as its primary targeted industries. Home of the nation’s largest solar plant, DeSoto offers the best location under the sun for green energy, according to DeSoto EDO website, which notes: “There’s no better time than now and no better place than DeSoto, a community endowed with the needed natural and human resources to fulfill the promise of green energy.” Regarding life sciences, DeSoto officials are hoping to make their mark as Florida continues a coordinated effort to become a hub for that sector. In Florida, there are approximately 1,000 biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, along with more than 44,000 health care establishments, cite DeSoto officials. As for IT, DeSoto County is at the heart of a project to build a new Middle Mile broadband infrastructure, which will link providers of vital public sector commercial services with private-sector nonprofit entities. Currently nearing the end of a three-year build-out, the project will deliver up to 1,000 times the existing capacity within the coverage area.


Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast high schools have been identified as two of the most outstanding high schools in the country. U.S. News and World Report released its annual Best High Schools rankings after analyzing 21,035 public schools nationwide. Of 777 high schools in Florida, only 119 met the student performance and college readiness criteria that enabled them to be included in the national rankings. Both Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast are among the elite group. Matanzas ranked No. 72 in Florida and No. 1,523 nationwide; Flagler Palm Coast was No. 87 in Florida and No. 2,242 nationwide. The rankings put Matanzas in the top 7 percent and Flagler Palm Coast in the top 11 percent of U.S. high schools. According to the report, a three-step process determined the rankings. The initial two steps ensured that the schools serve all of their students well, using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmark. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.


With an eye on anticipated changes in technology and the rapid growth in demand for high-speed Internet or data transfer capacity, Hardee County will deploy Motorola’s fixed wireless broadband solutions to create a new infrastructure. The Hardee Broadband Project will result in a “compelling alternative to the outdated dial-up or DSL options currently available,” says Bill Lambert, director of the Hardee County Economic Development Authority. Today, Internet service/data volume and speed in Hardee are limited to capacities available through conventional telephone technologies, with much of the county’s rural areas limited to dial-up speeds and more urbanized communities having access to low-end DSL service. The project emerged as a result of the federal stimulus focus on bringing broadband services to rural communities. The Hardee County Economic Development Authority provided a grant to fund the project.


Leadership Hernando, the largest community leadership program in Hernando County and a development program of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, commences its Class of 2013 in June, with graduation set for November. The program is intended to create opportunities to observe, interact and learn from public, private and civic leaders across the county. The idea is that “to be the best in your chosen profession—whether in the military, government, health care, public service or the private sector—it is essential to witness firsthand the powerful examples set by acknowledged experts for those who follow.” Since 1992, Leadership Hernando has graduated more than 500 people, with approximately 25 individuals participating in this year’s class.
Highlands’ “Viva 500” Time Capsule, an effort of the Historic Preservation Commission of Highlands County, serves as a snapshot of today across the county.


The Highlands County “Viva 500” time capsule was officially dedicated with a ceremony hosted by the Board of County Commissioners at the Government Center in Sebring. The Department of State’s Division of Library and Information Services provided a time capsule to the county as part of a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the landing of Juan Ponce de Leon on Florida’s east coast in 1513. Viva 500 is a yearlong statewide celebration of that anniversary. The Historic Preservation Commission of Highlands County was tasked with assembling items for the time capsule, with the items serving as a snapshot of the county today. After being on display throughout May, the time capsule was scheduled for placement in the floor of the Government Center lobby in early June where it will remain for the next 50 years.


Hillsborough County government is renovating and expanding six public libraries in 2013 or, as officials contend, “building the power of knowledge one brick at a time.” New construction includes the two-story, 22,000-square-foot Seminole Heights Branch Library, at a cost of nearly $3.9 million. Expansions are in the works at Upper Tampa Bay Regional Public Library (roughly 12,000 square feet at a cost of nearly $2.2 million); at Bloomingdale Regional Public Library (roughly 10,000 square feet, $2.1 million); and at Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library (approximately 10,000 square feet, nearly $2.1 million). The renovations encompass restroom and parking improvements at Austin Davis Public Library and Brandon Regional Library, respectively, at total costs of about $130,000. All of the construction, expansions and renovations were funded with ad valorem tax dollars through the library district tax.
Lake’s new Emergency Communications and Operations Center is expected to be the county’s most utilized government building.


The county’s new Emergency Communications and Operations Center officially opened in Tavares. The multifunction, 28,495-square-foot building has an adjacent Communications Center, which is a “24-7” 911 call center for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Lake Emergency Medical Services Inc. Twenty-two of the 27 EMS, fire and law enforcement agencies in Lake County are dispatched from the building. The facility also features  an Emergency Operations Center and offices for the Lake County Public Safety Department. Planning for the project began in 2002, ground broke in 2012 and the building was completed this year, on schedule. Expected to be the most utilized government building in the county, the facility was made possible by a combination of federal and state grants, as well as local funds. In addition, the center is intended to create significant long-term savings in operational costs, data storage, lease space and energy efficiencies.


The Nature Coast Business Development Council Inc., intent on distinguishing Levy, is increasingly touting its “Rural County” designation by the state of Florida. With that designation, combined with having parts of the county designated an Enterprise Zone, special incentives are available to businesses looking to locate to the area. The Enterprise Zone is 15.09 square miles within that county, where existing businesses and those that locate into the Zone may qualify for incentives, including job tax credits and sales refunds on building materials and business equipment. The Enterprise Zone also gives priority to businesses seeking other incentives, such as grants from the state.
Marion County’s Communications Center earns globally high marks for both fire and medical accreditation—a difficult double feat.


Marion County Public Safety Communications earned fire and medical reaccreditation from the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch, reaffirming the belief that Marion call-takers and dispatchers are among the best in the world, according to county officials. While many dispatch centers are accredited in fire or medical call-taking procedures, the Marion communications center is one of only a dozen facilities across the world that is dual-certified. All call-takers and dispatchers at the center are trained to handle fire, medical and law enforcement calls. Obtaining the recertification is a process that takes several months and requires the communications center to score a 95 percent or better in 20 categories. The National Academy of Emergency Dispatch determines various scores by reviewing 911 calls and reports at random.


As part of a continuing effort to improve public safety, the
City of Orlando poured the last segment of concrete to complete phase one of a sidewalk project called ORLANDO WALKS. The focus had been on installing new sidewalks in Orlando neighborhoods, with that final segment culminating in  more than 17 miles of new sidewalks constructed in 32 neighborhoods. The new sidewalk locations were determined based on proximity to schools, parks, bus routes, retail locations and SunRail stations. Currently, the city of Orlando is developing and evaluating locations for phase two of the project. Construction on that phase is expected to start in the fall and last approximately 18 months.


County Commission Chairman Frank Attkisson delivered the inaugural State of Osceola address, highlighting that “Osceola County is back with a vengeance.” Building permits are on the rise, he cited, and the county achieved a 10-year high in overnight visitors in 2012. “Osceola is open for business,” Attkisson said. “Today should not be a day of asking, ‘Is the recession over?’ but a day of us realizing that we are making Osceola number one for you, your family and future residents.” The event served as a community status report and focused on district-by-district reports by county commissioners, as well as actions the county has taken in the last year and the resulting positive impact on residents and businesses.
A lengthy new boardwalk at the Upper Pithlachascotee River Preserve arrived courtesy of Pasco’s Environmental Lands division.


The county’s Environmental Lands division features a new 1,500-foot boardwalk at the Upper Pithlachascotee River Preserve, thanks to a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The boardwalk meanders through a Bottomland hardwood forest and leads to a historic cypress tree. Along with the boardwalk, the division also added several other amenities to the Preserve, such as a parking lot, a nature themed playground and interpretive trail signs. The Preserve is dominated by 69 acres of Bottomland forest associated with the Pithlachascotee River and a small tributary, Ryals Branch that crosses the site. Protected wildlife species documented, or likely to exist, include the gopher tortoise, Florida mouse, gopher frog, little blue heron and snowy egret. The Preserve also offers  1.5 miles of trails.


The Pinellas County Tax Collector received the Governor’s Sterling Award for 2013, the highest award an organization can receive for performance excellence in Florida, according to Gov. Rick Scott. The Pinellas tax office, serving more than 917,000 residents of Pinellas, is responsible for the collection and distribution of property taxes, sales taxes and tourist development taxes, as well as providing motor vehicle and licensing services on behalf of the state through six branch offices. As an independently elected Constitutional Officer that acts as the county’s chief revenue officer, the Pinellas County Tax Collector collects more than $2 billion in taxes each year, and feeds and distributes that revenue among 64 taxing authorities to fund services. Transaction accuracy was measured at 99 percent in fiscal year 2012.
Along with the Governor’s Sterling Award, Pinellas Tax Collector Diane Nelson and her budget and finance department received an honor for best financial practices from the Florida Tax Collector’s Association.


As part of its economic development restructuring process, the Board of County Commissioners and the Central Florida Development Council Inc. created a new name for the Polk County Small Business Assistance Center—one that better fits the center’s expanding services, they say. The center provides professional and confidential consultation to start-up business owners, as well as existing businesses that want to grow but need help with financing and marketing strategies. Aside from one-on-one consultations, staffers conduct workshops throughout the county. The center will operate on an annual budget of $209,000, funded from the county’s occupational license fees. Under the previous model, the organization was also funded through a federal small business development grant. The new plan, however, allows the program to re-brand and operate as a county-run agency.


As part of a way to help revitalize downtown Palatka, Riverfront Park is receiving  approximately $1.2 million in improvements to the south end, including new floating docks, a marine fueling facility, more restrooms, new facilities for water taxi ticketing and concessions, increased parking and additional boat launch ramps. Most of the funding is coming from state agency grants. The hope, according to city officials, is to attract more people downtown, which would spur new business development, primarily small businesses. Already, some business activity is heating up. In late May, two local businesses were vying for the opportunity to run marine operations at Palatka’s city dock upon completion of the improvements.
The award-winning Casey Key project replaced a leaking water main
serving Siesta Key and Casey Key.


Two county capital improvement projects garnered statewide awards for excellence and a third project won a national award. The Honore Avenue improvements project and the Siesta Key-to-Casey Key water main interconnect project each won statewide American Public Works Association Project of the Year awards. Meanwhile, the Celery Fields Regional Stormwater Facility Phase 3 project won an Environmental Excellence Award in the Conservation category from the National Association of Environmental Professionals. The approximately $18 million design-build Honore Avenue project involved a 2.7-mile-long extension of Honore Avenue, which is a critical missing link in one of the major north-south county thoroughfares. The $1.1 million Casey Key project replaced a leaking water main serving the two barrier islands of Siesta Key and Casey Key. The $7.2 million Celery Fields project provides flood protection, floodplain storage, water quality improvements and wetland restoration habitat.


Seminole’s new hands-on STEM program is an extension of traditional classroom education and targets students in middle school and high school.
The City of Altamonte Springs, in partnership with Seminole County Public Schools, Seminole State College and the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce, launched an academic outreach program that promotes career readiness in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). According to officials, the AS2I program serves as an extension of the traditional classroom, fosters curiosity and expands knowledge in the sciences by providing real-world, hands-on activities and experiences for more than 6,000 Seminole County middle and high school students. The practical STEM education was created through diverse collaborations among educators, professionals, volunteers and corporate partners to provide ongoing science outreach opportunities for students in K-12, teachers and the community. The program, for example, helps young people understand their connection to the environment and a sustainable community while also offering internships to extend that exposure.


The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada awarded the Sumter County Board of County Commissioners its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the county’s 2013 budget. The award reflects the commitment of the governing body and staff to meet the highest principles of governmental budgeting. To receive the award, an entity must satisfy nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation. Those guidelines are designed to assess how well the entity’s budget serves as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide and a communications device. Budget documents must be rated “proficient” in all four categories, and the 14 mandatory criteria within those categories, to receive the award. According to the Government Finance Officers Association, it is rare for new applicants, such as the Sumter County Board of County Commissioners, to earn awards out of the starting gate.


A. Ryan Williams, operations manager for Volusia County Emergency Management, was appointed to the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s Advisory Working Group. Williams fills the Region 5 seat that covers nine Central Florida counties. The working group addresses emergent challenges to disaster management by convening some of the state’s top professionals in the field. Williams joined the Volusia staff in July 2008, having worked in the emergency management field in Florida since 2001, where he is certified as a Florida Professional Emergency Manager.