This year's list of the region's top business stories begins and ends on a positive note.
Let's get to it. The top 10 business stories of 2010:
10. Amway Center. The new, $480 million home of the Orlando Magic opened to rave reviews for its technology and amenities. Its effect on surrounding businesses is still being tested, with the Magic not even halfway through the season yet. But the new arena's potential to reinvigorate downtown Orlando makes this one of the year's more upbeat stories.
9. BP oil spill. If Metro Orlando were on the Gulf coast, then the oil-rig explosion and resulting gusher would be higher on this list. To be sure, local businesses were affected by disruptions in the seafood supply chain and other fallout from the record-setting spill. But landlocked Orlando was mostly insulated from the economic calamity. Still, images of oil-smeared birds and workers scooping tar balls off Panhandle beaches permeated the entire state.
8. Passenger rail. Another check in the good-news column. Billions of federal dollars came through for a high-speed rail system. And Central Florida's commuter-rail also cleared some critical hurdles. Gov.-elect Rick Scott could put one or both of these projects on ice, however, which brings us to our next item. …
7. Scott's election. The former health-care executive was elected despite millions spent by the business community to beat him in the GOP primary. Now Scott is playing nice with those very business interests as he raises money for his inauguration.
6. Jacob's election. Orange County Mayor-elect Teresa Jacobs was another upset for the local business lobby, which had endorsed her opponent, Bill Segal. Jacobs has already initiated a series of jobs summits and will undoubtedly set the course for local economic development.
5. Southwest- AirTran. Orlando lost one of its few major corporate headquarters when Southwest Airlines announced in September that it was buying AirTran Airways in a deal valued at $3.4 billion. The exact number of jobs to be lost and the fate of AirTran's brand-new systems-operation center won't be known until the deal closes.
4. SeaWorld trainer's death. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment's signature attraction was put under the microscope and perhaps altered forever when trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed in February by the Orlando-based company's largest killer whale. SeaWorld trainers nationwide have not been allowed in the water with the whales since, leaving a major hole in the shows at Shamu Stadium.
3. Unemployment. With joblessness still hovering close to 12 percent, the economy's slow recovery hung over many in Central Florida this year like a big storm cloud. With more job cuts to come, including those that will disappear as NASA shuts down the shuttle program, will keep this story near the top of the list next year, too.
2. Real estate. There was no escaping the housing bust again this year, as foreclosures and slumping home prices continued to touch every neighborhood. The tax credit for first-time home buyers provided only temporary relief. This fall's "robo-signing" foreclosure scandal only made matters worse, prolonging the return of bank-owned homes to the market.
1. Harry Potter. Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in June, was Orlando's economic salve. It boosted Universal's attendance by more than 30 percent and put heads in hotel beds for miles around, which had the added benefit of increasing local tourist-tax collections by double-digit percentages. Potter even seemed to give Disney — which is otherwise notably absent from this list — some heartburn. Summer attendance at Disney was about even with last year's, even as more people flocked to town, presumably under Harry's spell.
Beth Kassab can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.