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Florida Pushes $2.5M to Lake County for Innovation District

The grant program, announced in late December by Gov. Rick Scott’s office, is part of a larger initiative to spur economic growth in the state. The funds will go toward improvements around the Wolf Branch Innovation District.

(TNS) — For more than a decade, Mount Dora and Lake County officials have looked at ways of drawing in companies that offer high-wage professional jobs into the rural area near Round Lake Road, just east of the city.


Those efforts received a boost recently when the governor’s office announced a $2.5 million award toward widening Round Lake Road in the Wolf Branch Innovation District and extending the road just past State Road 44, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Orlando.

When completed by 2023, the improvements will make it easier for motorists in that area — including workers and residents — to easily connect with the recently completed State Road 453, a spur that leads to State Road 46, and to the Wekiva Parkway. The better road network is expected to create a large employment hub in that area, Mount Dora Mayor Nick Girone said.

“This will be phenomenal,” Girone said. “This will make us very attractive to industries and companies that would want to relocate here because it will connect employees and residents with the larger transportation network [in Central Florida].”

According to plans, Round Lake Road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes between Meadowland Drive in Orange County and Wolf Branch Road in Lake County. The project also will lengthen Round Lake to just north of S.R. 44, for a total of 4.5 miles of improvements. The project is currently in the planning and design stages.

In 2004, Mount Dora and Lake County officials designated about 1,300 acres near Round Lake and Wolf Branch roads to be developed into a professional employment center, with businesses focused on research, health care, information technology and clean, light manufacturing.

Later designated as the Wolf Branch Innovation District, it mostly straddles state roads 46 and 453, and roughly stretches from Wolf Branch Road to the Orange County line.

At that time, Mount Dora and Lake officials envisioned that the Wekiva Parkway and the now-completed S.R. 453 spur would bring in tens of thousands of motorists from Orange and Seminole counties. It also would provide about 17,000 new job opportunities.

Lake officials said in a county document that the Wolf Branch Innovation District will “be a game changer” for an area that has historically been known as mostly agricultural, dotted with horse ranches and farms.

“The area will also incorporate a network of trails and outdoor spaces that will make this an ideal place to live and work right here in Lake County,” according to the document.

Lake County Commission Chairwoman Leslie Campione said the area — with rolling hills and homes on large lots — is perfect for attracting career-oriented, professional workers looking to settle in Central Florida.

“It has a small-town feel and a nice quality of life,” she said.

Campione cautioned, however, that the area must maintain its rural character and charm when new businesses and homes are developed within that district.

She said it’s still too early to say how the local governments will attract businesses, whether it’s through tax breaks or other incentives. However, any incentives must be to companies that offer jobs that pay above the county’s average wage, she said. According to the state, the average annual wage in Lake County is $36,595.

The $2.5 million award to Lake County was announced Dec. 28 by former Gov. Rick Scott’s office. It was among five awards totaling nearly $9 million in funding from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.

Mount Dora spokeswoman Lisa McDonald said the Round Lake Road expansion and the Wekiva Parkway completion will play a big part in changing the economic and geographic landscape in that area.

“As we move into the future, and as we bring in these high-tech industries, we’re also looking at bringing in young professional families,” she said. “We’re really excited.”

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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