Small Business Catalyst

Small Business Catalyst

While the sluggish economy is taking a toll on tourism, the dominant industry in Orlando, Florida, the city is seeing growth in a variety of other areas such as healthcare, education, biosciences, and its $13.4 billion technology sector that includes aviation, aerospace operation, homeland security, biotechnology, and software development.

With a population of 220,000, Orlando is also the headquarters for Darden Restaurants, Hughes Supply, Tupperware Corp., and Disney. Furthermore, two of the nation’s largest hospitals, The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Burnham Institute for Medical Sciences, will unveil Orlando campuses in 2009 as Nemours Children’s Hospital breaks ground. Also, a new basketball arena and renovation of the Citrus Bowl are expected to attract world-class sporting events.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for businesses here,” says Vel Johnson, owner of Vasaj Communications, a full-service public relations consultancy. Johnson, 41, was born in Muenchweiler, Germany, and lived in Tallahassee for 18 years before moving to Orlando about two years ago. She knew no one in her adopted hometown, but easily found business resources.

“Orlando is proud of its small business advocacy and development enterprises such as the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, the Disney Entrepreneurs Center, and University of Central Florida’s incubation program, designed to nurture entrepreneurial stability and economic growth among small business proprietors,” says Johnson. She also sees great opportunity coming. “Orlando is more upbeat and centered to growth and business. It has an eclectic mix of people and everything you need, no matter what your lifestyle.” To check out Orlando’s other alluring offerings, visit

Situated in the heart of the downtown experience, the [3] Grand Bohemian Hotel (325 South Orange Ave., 407-313-9000, in Orlando’s financial district is a landmark building with easy access to museums, and the banking and government districts. Johnson notes that it’s well-known for its Sunday Jazz Brunch ($54). Reservations are recommended.

The graceful fountains and palm trees that trim the entrance and archways of the [2] Grande Lakes Orlando (400 Central Florida Parkway, 407-206-1100, make you feel like you’re in a tropical city, Johnson says about this Ritz-Carlton sister property. “It’s one of the most refined luxury experiences, and a gorgeous place to hold board meetings to impress corporate clients.”

The Gaylord Palms Resort Hotel and Convention Center (6000 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee, 407-586-2000,, just on the outskirts of downtown Orlando, is modeled after a grand, turn-of-the-century Florida mansion. The striking property contains 1,406 rooms, more than four acres of indoor gardens, a spa club, shopping, and casual restaurants and lounges to cater to guests.

Around 7:00 p.m. is the right time, says Johnson, for savoring the lake view and a glass of Merlot from a table at [5] Seasons 52 (7700 Sand Lake Rd.,407-354-5212, “I like that every season they change their menu and emphasize the nutritional benefits and calories in their meals. My favorite dish is the caramelized sea scallops with roasted asparagus and tomatoes, served with pearl pasta.”