Economic development agency marks several victories before its upcoming one-year anniversary.

A group of volunteers formed the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance in July 2011 to help local residents find jobs. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

POINCIANA – Throughout the year, Poinciana will be celebrating a big birthday bash. May 2012 marked the 40th year that Poinciana first become a settled community.
The Association of Poinciana Village, the homeowners association that represents most of the community’s 10 villages, threw a big birthday bash on the Memorial Day Weekend and will host two other special events, in October and December.
In the meantime, a local group is also having a birthday celebration next month. It won’t be on quite the same level as the 40th anniversary bash that the entire community is celebrating, said Nick Murdock, but it will represent, he hopes, a milestone for Poinciana just the same.
Murdock is the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, a group formed in July 2011 with a simple mission. In the next few years, Poinciana is expected to benefit from thousands of jobs being created through a series of major construction projects, including the building of the community’s first hospital and a new toll road. The volunteers who organized PEDA wanted to be sure that as many Poinciana residents as possible got those jobs, so they organized an informational event last September to help people write resumes and get prepared for those construction jobs on the way.
But since then, PEDA’s entire mission has dramatically expanded and, Murdock hopes, so has their impact on the community.
“We will be celebrating our first anniversary in July,” he said. “Over the past year, we’ve tried to stay focused on our mission, which is creating new jobs and bringing in new businesses.”
That aspect of their mission has been a success, Murdock said, since on Saturday, PEDA will host its third job fair this year. It’s being held at Liberty High School’s cafeteria on 4250 Pleasant Hill Road, and will be the biggest one so far. It runs from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and resumes will be accepted by several employers, including Robins & Morton, the sub-contractors building the Poinciana Medical Center.
“Robins & Morton will have more hiring in November, and more hiring probably after the first of the year,” Murdock said, as PEDA held its June meeting on Wednesday at the Poinciana Community Center.
At the same time, an employment agency based in Sanford, Quality Labor Management, is working with PEDA to recruit construction workers from Poinciana for positions across Central Florida, Murdock said.
“QLM is working very closely with us now,” he said. “They’re trying to find jobs for people now.”
PEDA started in July 2011 with a group of volunteers who had a single, clear vision: to help people in Poinciana find much-needed jobs. They wanted to help Poinciana residents get ready for what’s expected to be up to 7,000 new construction and medical jobs coming to the community of 84,000 residents, through a variety of projects, including the Poinciana Medical Center and the Poinciana Parkway toll road.
PEDA’s initial goals was to hold an informational fair that helped residents put together a resume and learn how to apply for those construction jobs. But in the months that followed, PEDA began reaching out to private businesses, educational institutions, public sector service agencies and others to convince them to consider Poinciana as a good place for future investments.
So far, it’s worked, with agencies as diverse as Valencia College, the Salvation Army and TECO interested in expanding into Poinciana.
PEDA incorporated in May, and is now looking to raise funds to open an office and visitors center in Poinciana, where its members can continue with the goal of bringing jobs, new businesses, social services, and a long-term master plan to Poinciana.
“We want to do a business director of every large and small business in the community,” Murdock said, adding that PEDA would host a business workshop in the fall. The goal of that workshop, Murdock said, is to pose the question, “What can economic development do for the community?”
PEDA will also ask those business owners to consider becoming members, paying an annual fee that helps cover the non-profit agency’s ongoing expenses.
“We also are going to ask people how much they are willing to donate to PEDA as memberships,” he said. “We do need to have funds to be able to open a visitors center and have a part-time executive director and a part-time clerical person. We want the business community to help us make a decision on that.”
Wendy Farrell, one of the original founders of PEDA, is a small business owner who runs Signature Promotions, and she’s also the chairman of the Poinciana Area Council, which operates under the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce. Farrell said she’s busy reaching out to her business contacts as well about joining PEDA and helping its mission.
“I’m trying to do an inventory of every business in Poinciana – and it’s a challenge,” she said.
In addition to Murdock and Farrell, the PEDA founders were Annette Brown-Best, Fernando Valverde, and Nestor Nuesch. They now serve as its board of directors through the incorporation process. Murdock is PEDA’s first president and board chairman, Farrell is the vice president, and Nuesch will serve as the executive director who operates the agency — initially on a volunteer basis, and then with a full-time salary when PEDA secures the funds needed to operate.
PEDA has also expanded its mission. Today the group is working to convince Polk County commissioners and the Polk County School Board to bring more government services to the Polk County side of Poinciana, which has 31,000 residents.
The Osceola County side of Poinciana has 52,000 people, but it also has three high schools and far more businesses.
“If you take our population in both counties, we’re the second largest community after Lakeland in either county,” Murdock said. “We’re bigger than Winter Haven.”
PEDA wants the Polk County School Board to build a high school on the Polk County side of Poinciana, so local teens don’t have to travel to Haines City to attend high school. Because residents of Polk County-Poinciana don’t pay Osceola County property taxes, they can’t attend Poinciana High, New Dimensions High or Liberty High.
Brown-Best said the only way that’s going to happen is if local residents keep demanding it – just as residents fought hard to get the state to provide a certificate of need to the builders of the Poinciana Medical Center.
“They started to walk away several times on this, but they didn’t – because we never shut up,” Brown-Best said. “It’s so important for the entire community to know this.”
Murdock said they also want to bring more businesses to Poinciana-Polk County.
“We’re looking at 25,000 people that have no commercial (development) whatsoever there – nothing,” Murdock said. “That’s why job creation is so critical.”

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