Orlando shows signs of strength

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Real Estate

When Greg Dryden moved to Central Florida four years ago, he did not fully appreciate Orlando Economic Partnership’s branding slogan: “Orlando. You Don’t Know the Half of It.”

“I didn’t know how truthful and insightful that was. There is so much more going on here other than the tourism sector that Orlando is known for across the country,” he says now while gazing at the fountain in Lake Eola Park from his office at Fifth Third Bank’s local headquarters downtown.

Dryden has come to truly appreciate the local economy and all that the region has to offer as Orlando city president for Fifth Third Bank. In this interview, he recalls how strong the region was before the pandemic’s impact, reflects on its subsequent resilience, and shares his views of the area’s resurgence.

How would you describe the Orlando economy?

Before the pandemic hit, Orlando was really thriving. It was one of the fastest-paced growth areas in one of the fastest-paced growth regions in the country, and we were all in a position to benefit.

But in March we almost went into a recession overnight. We’re not over the pandemic yet. But we hope that the worst is behind us and that we will continue on the upward trajectory.

And, there’s an understanding here that we’re not just after prosperity for the few. We want to achieve prosperity for everybody. There’s a real commitment to making Orlando great for all.

What industries have had the biggest positive impacts on the area this year?

High-tech manufacturing has done really well, as have transportation and warehousing. And professional and business services. As more people move into our region, it’s creating opportunities there.

Also, we’re benefiting from the prevalence of aerospace and defense, which is creating entrepreneurial and startup opportunities, and digital imaging. These handfuls of sectors are helping to drive our economy.

How is the downtown area evolving?

It’s growing in step with the region, but no city is going to be all that it can be without a thriving and healthy downtown. I’m excited by the Under-i Project, which will do a wonderful job of connecting the east and west portions of downtown with a vibrant space that will be embraced by the community.

The Creative Village has been impactful as well. And there is long-term planning focused on accommodating growth downtown. Our downtown is better than most, and it is continuing to grow.

What are the opportunities and challenges for the Orlando region moving forward?

Though we need more confidence in consumer spending and a boost in tourism in the short run, nothing is more important in the long term than transportation. We can’t be the best we can be without investing in transportation.

The I-4 Project will make downtown traffic easier. But there will still be congestion in the region and we don’t want any part of the region to be left behind. It would be wonderful to integrate and expand the light rail systems that we have.

We’re growing at such a rate that if we can make these investments in transportation, they’ll pay dividends for a long time.

How has Fifth Third Bank positioned itself for the future?
Digital capabilities are becoming more important for any company, and we’ve made significant investments to improve the quality of our services and deliver them in a way that customers want.

On the commercial side, we’ve invested in a technology platform that offers multiple services through a single log-on. Our goal is to streamline access and improve the experience by making it easier.

On the consumer side, we’ve added more mobile services. You can open an investment account or apply for a mortgage, for example. These have proved very helpful during the pandemic by letting customers self-serve from the convenience and safety of their homes.

We’re also developing next-generation retail centers that allow the customer to do what they want in the way they want to do it. We recently opened one of our newest next-gen locations in Windermere

Lastly, in August, we completed a significant redesign of our main office on Lake Eola. We need to leverage the experience we share across our teams to meet our clients’ needs as “one bank” and this new workspace is making that easier for us.
What will 2021 bring?

This investment in technology and delivery of digital services is not going away. With more connected devices, with more power and connectivity for consumers, there will be more opportunities and demand for businesses to deliver services digitally.

Personally, I’m hoping that we’ll have a more normal experience next year. Selfishly, I can’t wait to bring my family downtown for dinner and to catch a Magic game or maybe a show at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. We miss these things.