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At A Glance: Orlando

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Located in the Sun Belt, Orlando, Florida is America's most visited American city. Today between tens of millions of tourists visit area theme parks or come for the thriving conference and convention trade. But it wasn't always this way.


The Creek and other Native American tribes originally populated the area. Mid-1500s saw the arrival of Europeans. In recent years Orlando's population has been blended with various ethnicities, with a high percentage of Puerto Rican and Caribbean communities. The city itself has over 240,000 people, while more than 2 million people are in the larger metro area consisting of areas in four counties. The metro area is also known as Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford after the three largest cities in the greater Orlando area.


Lakes abound in and around Orlando located in the central region of the state. The wetlands habitat provides views of plants and animals in their natural environment. Being inland, the area has fewer hurricanes than coastal Florida (a main reason in Disney's location choice). Unfortunately, Orlando's geology makes sinkholes a real possibility, with a notable case in the summer of 2013 seeing a metro-Orlando resort get partially swallowed by a sinkhole, an incident reported on national news.


Downtown Orlando has a majestic historic area around Lake Eola with many of the oldest homes in the city dating to the 1800s. Brick-paved streets and 100-year-old oak trees complete the picture. A walking tour of the Lake Eola and nearby neighborhoods provides a glimpse into the town's past and shows why the city is known as "The City Beautiful."


In 1971 Walt Disney World opened south of the city and the theme park brought massive growth. New jobs were created, mainly in the hotel, restaurant and attraction businesses creating a population explosion. Other theme parks followed, such as Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and Legoland. Tourists came in droves and eventually made Orlando International Airport the 29th busiest airport in the world giving the city its second nickname: "The Theme Park Capital of the World."

Economy Today

Long a cattle and orange juice-producing and military area, later a theme-park mecca and now also an area of hi-tech and industrial growth, Orlando's economic base in varied. Central Florida Research Park employs over 8,500 people and is the hub of the nations' military simulation and training programs. Major engineering companies, such as Lockheed-Martin, have facilities in Orland. Hi-tech companies dealing with film, TV, electronic gaming and computer animation are also located here.

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