by Diane Sears
Updated 11 months ago
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When the time came to build an employee training facility, JetBlue Airways considered locations in Florida, California and its home base of New York. In the end, however, the company chose Orlando International Airport for its JetBlue University Orlando Support Campus, plus an installation hangar for in-flight television systems and a facility to house employees who are undergoing training.
Area leaders say this is just the kind of development the Central/Space Coast region of Florida is seeking to attract as it builds its reputation as the world capital of modeling, simulation and training technology, or MS&T.
"We just fit right in," says Robert Land, JetBlue vice president.
The large MS&T sector in Central/Space Coast Florida includes more than 140 companies, close to 17,000 workers and a gross regional product of $2.5 billion, according to the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission.
Among the companies represented are contractors and subcontractors that support the military, including Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, L3 Communications, SAIC, Boeing and Harris Corp.
The area is also home to the National Center for Simulation in Orlando and the Florida Institute for Simulation and Training, at the nearby University of Central Florida, one of only three places in the world that confers a Ph.D. in MS&T. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Day-tona Beach offers aviation simulation programs, and Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne has an aerospace engineering program.
|Facts & Figures|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau; Demographics USA 2005, TradeDimensions International Inc.; Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. EBI = effective buying/disposable income.
In Volusia County, virtual reality training company Raydon Corp. has expanded from 180 employees to 230 in the past year. The company produces simulators for military vehicles such as Humvees and Bradley tanks. In 2005, Raydon created a new division for a product that trains student drivers.
Raydon has five facilities in Daytona Beach and, according to Rick Michael, director of Volusia County's Department of Economic Development, is looking to consolidate its operations under one roof or on a single campus. In summer 2006, JetBlue broke ground on its $24.5 million JetBlue Crew Lodge, a 292-room, all-suites private facility that will house trainees and their families. Completion is expected by late 2007.
For JetBlue, the decision to build in Central Florida came after a good deal of deliberation.
"As we grew as an airline, it made sense for us to have our own place," JetBlue's Robert Land says. "We looked at the numbers, and Florida really started standing out for a number of reasons." And Orlando, he adds, was the most suitable match.
Orlando International, which has hosted JetBlue flights for six years, served more than 34 million passengers in 2005 and is the fourth-largest in the nation for domestic flights. In terms of traffic, it ranks as the busiest airport in Florida, 12th-busiest nationwide and 21st busiest in the world.
The area also has a host of smaller airports, including Orlando Sanford International in Seminole County, Daytona Beach International in Volusia County and Melbourne International in south Brevard County, as well as many facilities catering to individual pilots and charter aircraft, such as Kissimmee Gateway, Leesburg Regional, Orlando Executive and Space Coast Regional.
Building on tourism
While developing its MS&T sector, the seven-county Central/Space Coast region has worked to further its preeminence as a tourist destination. In addition to its widely acclaimed beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, this region is home to a collection of world-renowned theme parks: Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom; Universal Studios Florida and its sister park Islands of Adventure; Sea World and its sister park Discovery Cove; and smaller attractions such as Gatorland in Kissimmee and Florida's oldest theme park, Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, which reopened under new ownership in December 2004 following extensive renovations.
The tourist-town perception actually gives the area an advantage when it competes with other parts of the country for high-tech firms, says Charlie Sloan, executive vice president of business development for the Metro Orlando EDC. People who come to scout out the area think they're sneaking off for a vacation. Then they see the opportunities available.
"The first thing they say is, 'Wow, I had no idea this all existed here in Orlando,'" Sloan says. "They're usually just dumbfounded and surprised at the depth and breadth of the infrastructure. The best thing you can do is exceed expectations."
The space industry pumps $4.5 billion annually into Florida's economy and employs more than 23,000 workers in space-related businesses across the state.
But while tourism and conventions pump billions of dollars into this region's economic engine, the technology sector is coming on strong too, with the creation of Innovation Way. Spearheaded by Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty, this emerging new high-tech corridor is aimed at encouraging business expansion and job growth in vital economic sectors.
Along with Central Florida Research Park, International Corporate Park and Orlando International Airport, the University of Central Florida is a key component of the mayor's economic development strategy.
Efforts to make this region a biotech business hub are already showing results. In August 2006, the California-based Burnham Institute for Medical Research announced plans to build its Florida satellite lab on 50 acres of land in the Lake Nona area of Orlando. Over the next 10 years, an estimated 300 scientists and support staff will be hired at average annual salaries of about $80,000 to focus on obesity and diabetes research and new drug development at the Florida lab. While total economic impact is yet to be determined, local officials anticipate that the new 175,000-square-foot facility will serve as the anchor for what could become a regional center of medical research and treatment. The newly approved UCF medical school will be built on neighboring land, and a new Veterans Administration hospital in the same area is likely.
With 45,000 students, UCF has grown to become the seventh-largest university in the nation, and one of the area's top employers. Academic programs in engineering, computer science, optics and photonics as well as biomedical science, business administration and hospitality management are helping to provide a talented workforce equipped with highly specialized skills.
In 2005, UCF opened the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy in downtown Orlando to cater to the growing video game industry and MS&T sector. The new UCF medical school, which is slated to open by 2009, is expected to generate approximately $1.4 billion per year in economic activity and more than 6,400 jobs.
Roots in aviation
JetBlue and other companies are attracted by Central/Space Coast Florida's rich history in aviation. Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County has been the nation's hub for human spaceflight since the 1950s. Also in Brevard, Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station remain active military installations.
Location was extremely important to Anthony Tiarks in his search for an additional U.S. location for Liberty Aerospace, a U.K.-based manufacturer of two-seater Liberty XL-2 planes. Since opening a plant at Melbourne International Airport in 2002 with just five people, Liberty's workforce has grown to 170, and there are plans to hire more. Liberty President Tiarks looked at about 29 locations along the eastern seaboard and U.S. Gulf Coast. He chose Melbourne for many reasons: Brevard County's legacy in spaceflight, which offered a ready-made workforce of engineers for his company, and the facilities at Melbourne International, where small planes can easily share access with jets. Melbourne's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean was a plus, too; Tiarks could woo potential customers by flying them over the beach. The cost of living was another factor, Tiarks says. The average salary for his employees is $40,000 to $50,000, which goes further in Brevard County than in some other areas. "Here, people can have a good lifestyle--and not a big commute," he says.
Lockheed Martin took finances into consideration, too, when it decided to consolidate its Fleet Ballistic Missile Test and Support Systems Engineering Group from multiple buildings in Cocoa Beach to a single site. The company looked first at moving its entire operation to Kings Bay, Ga., or Bangor, Wash. Ultimately, Lockheed Martin chose to remain in Florida after the Economic Development Commission of the Space Coast put together a report on moving costs and helped find a two-building campus on the grounds of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The company's Post-Production Center of Excellence moved into its new quarters in January 2006, says George Olson, site director.
Lockheed Martin plans to add about 30 employees here in the next two to three years.
Growth spreads across industry sectors
Citizens Communications, which offers telephone, television and Internet service in mostly rural and small-town areas, also turned to Central/Space Coast Florida in 2006. Operating under its brand name Frontier, Citizens plans to build an inbound call center in DeLand that will eventually employ about 500 people. The company began moving into its newly renovated 40,000-square-foot facility along U.S. Highway 17-92 just south of DeLand in August 2006. As representatives from the company's headquarters in Stamford, Conn., met to analyze not only the community but also the workforce, in a café on Main Street in DeLand at 10 o'clock one night, they noticed there was still lots of activity downtown. That solidified their decision, says Volusia County Department of Economic Development's Rick Michael.
The company is expected to have a $40 million impact on the local economy, he adds. "There are a lot of things you need to support a workforce that size," including lunch places, dry cleaners, housing.
DeLand is looking forward to providing a ready workforce as the call center grows, thanks in part to the presence of Stetson University, which has an undergraduate student population of about 2,200.
In Brevard County, Med-Solutions has grown more quickly than planned, adding 190 jobs this year. MedSolutions provides radiology management services for nationally recognized managed care companies.
Before locating to Melbourne in 2005, the company hired a consulting firm to conduct a nationwide search, says John Chesnut, the project manager. Other locations MedSolutions considered were Texas, Arizona and its home base of Franklin, Tenn.
"We really tried to focus on some of the areas where we would get the best job applicant pool," Chesnut says. "Overall, Melbourne seemed like a very progressive area. There was a lot of new construction and development." MedSolutions built a 37,000-square-foot facility at Florida Marketplace near Melbourne International Airport to accommodate 112 people. The company's expansion will bring the number of employees to more than 300 over the next two years.
In Seminole County, Bank of New York established a base in 2001 for its BNY Investment Management Services, which handles broker clearing operations and securities processing for brokers and dealers. The operation has expanded several times since 2001 and now has grown to 550 employees.
In Sumter County, Eagle Roofing Products Florida LLC is building a manufacturing plant on 57 acres at County Roads 470 and 301, where it plans to start production on ceramic roofing tiles in October.
The new facility marks parent company Eagle Roofing Inc.'s intent to expand its distribution to the Southeast from its home base in Rialto, Calif., and other plants in Stockton, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., which employ a total of 1,200. "The rapidly growing housing market and the diversion of asphalt shingles to the Katrina rebuilding efforts have created a real shortage of concrete tile products in Florida," says Kevin Burlingame, president of Burlingame Industries, which owns Eagle Roofing. "Large tract builders and distributors have told us that a new facility was really needed to serve this part of the country."
More than 1,000 software design, data processing and information retrieval firms call this Florida region home.
The company plans to hire about 200 people to work at its 228,000-square-foot Sumterville plant in the first year, eventually expanding the workforce to 300. Electricians, mechanics, machine operators, forklift drivers, supervisors and customer service representatives will be among the new hires.
"We know the Sumter County area will bring us quality individuals that represent our vision," says Adrian Robledo, human resources manager. In Lake County, Ron Davis and his business partner Forrest Berg saw an opportunity to make money in Florida's housing boom while improving the efficiency of the construction industry. They opened Insulated Component Structures of Florida in Eustis in June 2005. The company uses a new product made in Mocksville, N.C., called USG Aqua Fiber Rock, which is both resistant to water, fire, termites, mold, mildew and 165-mph winds and saves on energy and construction costs.
ICS of Florida now has a 23,000-square-foot production facility at Eustis Commerce Park. The company employs 11 people and plans to hire more. Davis and Berg were looking for a location that would be near major highways in order to easily transport their materials all over the state. They got help from Derieth Sutton at the Metro Orlando EDC.
"She did the legwork and made it happen," Davis says. "She found our facility, which is centrally located."
Like Sumter and Lake counties, and other pockets of the Central/Space Coast region, Osceola County, United States Cold Storage, known nationwide for providing storage and transportation to the frozen and refrigerated foods industry, is building a warehouse in Poinciana Office and Industrial Park. The company, a subsidiary of The Swire Group, which has operations worldwide, expects to create 38 jobs at the new facility.
In Volusia County, DeLand Crossings at I-4 and State Road 44 is set to open in late 2006 with 300,000 square feet of space that will support about 300 jobs. Among the planned tenants are BBK Performance Parts, a California-based company that makes and distributes high-performance components for enhancing cars; and NSI Intellitec, a specialty vehicle electronics manufacturer. Plans are also in the works for industrial parks in Daytona Beach and Port Orange, and for expansions of similar businesses in Edgewater and Ormond Beach.
Bob Turk, vice president of the Business Development Partnership in Daytona Beach, doesn't expect the rush to slow down anytime soon. "Companies and site consultants are very active right now looking in this area," he says.
-- Diane Sears