We sat down with Tom Tomerlin and Tom Krueger – the economic development directors for the cities of Lake Mary and Longwood, respectively – to learn more about these fast friends (but sometimes friendly-foes) and the fascinating field in which they work.
LML: Though it’s a prestigious and high-ranking job, no one says, “I want to be an economic developer when I grow up.” How did you both get into this field, and how did you end up here?
Krueger: I was born in Cincinnati and worked for more than 20 years in major manufacturing. As a VP for my company, I was involved in site selection for new factories we wanted to open around the country, so I worked with economic developers in those cities from the business side of the table. I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I did a lot of small-business consulting, too. My family moved down here from Ohio after my injury [see Did You Know sidebar], and my job as economic development and special projects manager for Longwood combines all the skills and experience I’ve gathered over the years.
Tomerlin: I grew up in Lake Mary as a kid. In fact, I’m now living in the same house I grew up in. I went off to college and eventually got my Ph.D. in economics and was a professor in the Panhandle. I moved back here to be closer to family, and I took this job because it had the word economic in it [editor’s note: That was a joke, and Tom Tomerlin is well-known in the community for his razor-sharp wit, though he did fall into his economic-development role quite by accident nearly 10 years ago]. I’m now the economic development director for the City of Lake Mary and the assistant city manager.
LML: How do you explain economic development to people, and how do you describe your jobs?
Tomerlin: It’s really about quality of life. I think what most people in the world want is a good job, a family-sustaining job. If you have that, everything else will fall into place. That’s how I approach economic development. It’s my job to make sure there are good jobs for people to get in this community. That means bringing new companies to the area, helping existing businesses stay strong, and helping businesses that are already here expand. Economic development is like a four-burner stove. One burner is for business attraction, one for retention, one for expansion, and the fourth burner is the community’s choice. Here in Lake Mary, the main priorities we hear from the residents are workforce development and talent development.
Krueger: Economic development is such a team effort, and that means the different cities and counties all working together to make the whole region a better place to work and live. If it wasn’t for West Volusia County, for example, we wouldn’t have a workforce here in Seminole. A new business in Longwood is a good thing for Lake Mary and vice-versa. There’s a perception that there’s competition between the cities to attract and retain businesses, but it’s a friendly competition. We don’t keep score. Well, except for CompuTech City [a business that recently relocated from Lake Mary to Longwood].
Tomerlin: [laughing] You’re never going to let me hear the end of that one, are you? We don’t scorekeep, but he loves to bust my chops about CompuTech.
LML: So what’s on the horizon in each city? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or new businesses?
Krueger: Publix! Longwood’s first Publix is coming soon at the corner of Lake Emma Road and Longwood Hills Road. It’ll be a smaller, innovative neighborhood Publix designed to serve the many communities in that area. There’s the LA Fitness coming at the corner of 434 and 17-92 [the old Albertsons plaza]. There are also about 580 new housing units being built in Longwood. We’ve spent about $4 million in infrastructure improvements to get ready for them. We’ve seen 12 percent growth in employment in Longwood this year, too. And, of course, Reiter Park is about to reopen behind South Seminole Hospital, and that will be an amazing new attraction for residents and visitors [see page 62 to learn all about the reimagined Reiter Park].
Tomerlin:The most buzz right now is about Topgolf, the new multi-tiered driving range and golf attraction that will be built behind At Home [the old Gander Mountain store]. Residents have told us they want more things to do in Lake Mary, and that will be a lot of fun. We also have the new Dwell community coming near the SunRail station. That’s a mixed-use development with retail shops and businesses on the ground floor and apartments above. The Rinehart Health Corridor is really taking shape, and of course we have the new Griffin Farm at Midtown, which is really exciting.
Did You Know?
Tom and Tom share more than just a first name and an unusual job. They’ve both also survived and thrived despite major medical challenges. Tom Tomerlin has been a type-1 diabetic since he was seven years old. Tom Krueger was a college football standout and an Olympic-level athlete before he broke his neck while exercising. He was paralyzed for a time but refused to accept doctors’ prognoses that he would never walk again.
The Toms also have impressive and unusual educational credentials. Tom Krueger holds degrees in physics, engineering, and economics. Tom Tomerlin has a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. in economics.
Want More Information?