Profile: Orlando, Florida
Population: 221,000 (city), 2.1 million (metro area)
USDA Hardiness Zone: 9
Major Airport: Orlando International Airport
Companies with a Major Presence: Walt Disney Co. (Walt Disney World), Adventist Health (Florida Hospital), Publix Super Markets, NBC Universal, AirTran Airways, McDonald’s, Lockheed Martin, Marriott International, Anheuser-Busch InBev (SeaWorld)
Vast cattle ranches and citrus groves made way for Mickey and suburban sprawl as Orlando has transformed itself into an international destination city in a mere three decades.
Today, the Orlando metro area sees close to 50 million visitors a year, with most of them heading to theme parks, golf courses, award-winning restaurants and a string of hot nightclubs and music venues. But the city that’s seen an unprecedented population explosion in recent years is more than a collection of tourist attractions.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense giants, have a significant presence here. Visitors and locals who venture a little farther east can do more than sip "hurricanes" on the beach: with a little planning, they can treat themselves to one of the many launches that send spacecraft into unfathomable regions of space courtesy of the space program.
Real estate suffered a major blow during the recent economic downturn, but that hasn’t stopped a new medical school and a large scientific research center from being built here. Orlando -- or O Town, as locals sometimes refer to their city -- also has a quiet, genteel side ignored by visitors. Part of the city’s downtown is paved with stone and worth exploring on foot. Historic homes and bungalows built in the 1920s also add character and bygone-era charms to an area in the midst of defining itself.