Behind the Mickey Mouse ears at Walt Disney World, the killer whales at Sea World, and the fantastic movie sets at Universal Studios, folks in Orlando have been working hard at something else. They’re turning the area into one of the nation’s foremost hubs for optics technology and advanced manufacturing, outgrowths of a factory footprint that already was pretty formidable.
That effort is one reason Florida continued to nip at the heels of Texas in the 2018 Chief Executive “Best States and Worst States for Business” rankings, placing No. 2 to Texas once again for the umpteenth consecutive year.
“We’re the No. 1 visitor destination, but even including the retail aspects, tourism is only 1/3 of our local economy,” Tim Giuliani, CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, told Chief Executive. “The other two-thirds is grounded in manufacturing” by well-known outfits including Lockheed, Siemens and Mitsubishi. “We’re a lot more diverse economy than people think.”
Orlando’s University of Central Florida also, he said, is the second-largest university in America by population, and all told there are about 500,000 college students within 100 miles of the city.
As a result, the four-county area in Florida is one of America’s fastest-growing job-creating regions in advanced manufacturing, especially sensors and optics. Part of that is also the legacy of Orlando-area engineers who worked in the federal space program not far away at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on the Atlantic Coast.
“We’re the No. 1 visitor destination, but even including the retail aspects, tourism is only 1/3 of our local economy,” Tim Giuliani, CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, told Chief Executive. “The other two-thirds is grounded in manufacturing.”
For example, the region is home to BRIDG, an industry-led private-public partnership for advanced technologies and manufacturing processes, the first organization of its type in the world. Officially opened this year, the $72-million facility offers 100,000-plus square feet of lab and office space dedicated to supporting advanced manufacturing and sensor R&D for applications in the burgeoning Internet of Things and elsewhere. Siemens also announced a partnership with BRIDG.
Florida also continues to gain in some areas of traditional manufacturing that people wouldn’t typically associate with the Sunshine State. Nucor, for instance, a major steel manufacturing, announced recently that it plans to build a $240-millon steel mill east of Tampa that will employ 250 people and pay an average salary of $66,000.
But Florida still faces some big challenges, said Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning pro-hockey team and the most prominent commercial real-estate developer in the Tampa Bay area.
“We need to train our workforce better for higher-quality and more value-added jobs, because we’re a pretty heavy service economy for good reason,” he said. “We need to do better training our people.”
The complete listing for the Best and Worst States for Business can be found here.