Around the State- Central- June 2000
By Ken Ibold
The Disney Institute, which for four years has encouraged visitors to expand their intellectual horizons, has a new message: Bring nine friends, or don't come at all.
From its inception, the Disney Institute at Walt Disney World aimed to attract visitors looking more for personal growth than theme-park entertainment. The institute offers more than 80 programs in nine tracks: entertainment, fitness, lifestyles, story arts, culinary arts, design, environment, youth and performing arts. The classes were aimed at adults who wanted to explore new horizons, older children and young adults who wanted to investigate potential careers and groups that wanted to conduct team-building exercises. Guests could take classes in animation, topiary, rock climbing, cooking, antiquing and more.
The problem was, the number of individuals willing to pay $50 to $150 for a half-day course was far outstripped by the number of attendees promised by Orlando's lucrative convention and corporate trade. So in March, the institute declared it was making the programs open only to groups of 10 or more. Although the target groups are corporate and convention customers, the institute will also accept social groups such as wedding parties -- as long as at least 10 people are involved.
"The decision was not driven so much inside out, driven by us, as it was a response to the marketplace," says Craig Taylor, director of sales and marketing.
Taylor says the institute's corporate sales have grown very rapidly in the last couple of years, while the growth of individual sales has been merely "steady." In typical Disney fashion, Taylor declines to release any attendance figures.
By focusing on group sales, Disney may be counting on less price sensitivity. Many of the programs had been sold in three- and four-day packages that included lodging and other extras, sometimes for more than $1,000. Although those packages were discounted rates, even that could not fill the institute's 584 townhouses and bungalows.
When Disney chief Michael Eisner introduced the concept five years ago, he called it "a resort with a creatively charged atmosphere, where you can engage your body, excite your mind and expand your horizons," and a "bold experiment." As the experiment progresses, professional development courses such as "Managing for Creativity and Innovation" may take over from "The Creative Gardener."
In the News
Altamonte Springs -- FinancialWeb.com secured $8 million in funding that will enable it to expand its financial information web service to new international markets. The 3-year-old company said it would publish its overseas websites in the native languages of the countries that coverage is geared toward.
Casselberry -- Duro Communications flew in the face of Nasdaq's turmoil, filing an initial public offering the company hopes will raise $144 million. The company has not yet set a date for the offering or the number of shares.
Daytona Beach -- Thermacell Technologies says it will close its American Paints operation, which it called an "unnecessary financial drain on the company's resources." There's been no word on how many employees will be affected.
DeLand -- Memorial Health Systems says it will give up running Memorial Hospital-West Volusia effective Sept. 30. Although the company said in a letter to the West Volusia Hospital Authority that it may reconsider the termination if the lease agreement can be renegotiated, so far no talks have taken place and no other potential operators have been identified. Among other things, the company wants the tax-financed authority to boost its annual subsidy from $1.6 million to $6 million.
Lake Mary -- BarrierMed has launched its cut- and puncture-resistant surgical gloves, the first in a line of products that employ tough polymer films used in space suits and bulletproof vests but have the natural feel required in medicine. The company says the new patented material can replace about 400 products currently found in hospital operating rooms. The company says sales should top $3 million this year and reach $30 million in five years.
Leesburg -- Regal Marine Industries scrapped its plans to build a yacht factory on 16 acres. The plant, which would have employed about 345 people, was opposed by neighbors who worried it would create noise, traffic and health hazards.
Melbourne -- Harris Corp. (NYSE-HRS) says it has hired about 240 people so far this year, a step toward reversing the company's 550 layoffs in Brevard County in the last two years. The new hires will fill 160 new positions and 80 that had become vacant through attrition.
Orlando -- Staples announced plans to open 26 superstores in Florida this year, with the lion's share in the Orlando area. The company says central Florida's high number of entrepreneurial startups is driving its optimistic plans.
Osceola County -- Walt Disney World says it will hire more than 200 computer programmers, engineers and other technical personnel this year. Half of the positions will be new, while the other half will fill jobs vacated by workers moving on.
Winter Park -- Winter Park Health Foundation, which together with Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. is selling Winter Park Memorial Hospital, will inject more than $47 million into the foundation's cash reserves. The foundation has not yet decided what to do with the windfall but will likely expand existing programs for seniors and kids.