Osceola County Commission Chair Cheryl Grieb found herself rising to leadership of Central Florida’s fastest-growing county at a time of inopportune challenges, and as she leads the county through them she’s making her mark on the region.
Puerto Rican coal ash being imported into the county landfill under a contract Osceola officials can’t seem to shake. A transportation sales tax desperately pushed by county officials going down in humiliating defeat. A Governor’s veto of $6 million in economic development money earmarked for the county’s centerpiece high-tech development. An affordable housing shortage turning into humanitarian crisis by a flood of hurricane refugees from Puerto Rico. A lack of good-paying jobs. Water quality concerns on par with any region in the state. Chronic traffic problems are as bad as anyone else. A highly controversial highway through the Split Oak Forest. Huge developments in long-term plans.
“There are a lot of challenges at the county,” Grieb said. “I’m always up for a challenge.”
Grieb’s mark is being created from long, deep involvement in Osceola civics, a temperament of calmness and courtesy, and a positive approach to deal-making learned from decades as a successful real estate businesswoman.
Osceola County’s course from these turbulent times is her course to chart, and many in the county find comfort in that.
Grieb, 52, a Democrat, is ranked as the 13th most powerful elected official in the first-ever Central Florida 25 Most Powerful Politicians survey.
Osceola County is forever evolving, from a center of Florida agriculture to a bedroom community and cut-rate tourist area for Walt Disney World; to a place seeking a new identity aligned with high tech innovation fortunes envisioned for its NeoCity development, natural wonders from its long-neglected big lakes and rivers, and a coalition of connected yet independent live-work-play communities.
At least that’s Grieb’s vision, as someone who moved to Poinciana as a small child and grew up sneaking away to fish in ponds and attending all sorts of Osceola festivals.
“I consider myself a big-picture thinker,” Grieb said. “So they talk about keeping the end in mind: looking at where we want to be, and then trying to determine how to get there. And I’m also whenever we propose something at the county, I’m always thinking about the ‘what ifs.’”
Already, Osceola County is the fastest-growing county in Central Florida, number two in the state [to Marion County] and number 10 in the nation. Some projections have Osceola’s population doubling in the next 20 years. Plans for development in the county’s eastern side, owned by the Mormon Church’s Deseret Ranches of Florida, are even greater than that, with prospects of doubling the population again between 2040 and 2060.
Yet its two principal economic drivers remain tourism, largely in the western end, and agriculture in the east and south, and neither pay well.
Grieb is all-in with NeoCity, which is envisioned as a 500-acre, high-tech city within a city. The next big part, “LG Smart Town Center,” a $500 million facility, could come out of the ground next year. She also is pushing for warehousing and distribution, particularly in the developments being planned in the eastern part of the county.
“We didn’t have that before. There was nothing coming, so it was a bold move to step up and say, ‘OK, we’re going to create something that doesn’t exist. And NeoCity is going to be the first ‘smart city’ in Florida, really,” she said.
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