by Diane Sears
Updated 5 yearss ago
Orlando’s status as No. 1 in simulation and training, plus a ready supply of 3-D animators, prompted Digimation President David Avgikos to relocate his firm. [Photo: Brook Pifer]
Demographics for the East Central/ Space Coast Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.
• Beacon College
• Bethune-Cookman College
• Brevard Community College
• Daytona State College
• Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
• Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences
• Florida Institute of Technology
• Full Sail University
• Lake Sumter Community College
• Rollins College
• Seminole Community College
• Stetson University
• University of Central Florida
• Valencia Community College
LeQuang had a better idea. Instead of bringing just a tasty bite of Louisiana to Orlando, why not bring the whole company? That conversation led to an invitation to take a closer look at central Florida, which is increasingly becoming known as a hub for technology — including digital media and modeling, simulation and training. The rest is, as they say, history. Digimation opened its new headquarters in Lake Mary in Seminole County in early 2009.
Given that this 17-year-old company with 12 employees has switched its focus in recent years from creating films and video games to developing military training technology, the move made sense, says David Avgikos, Digimation’s president.
“The thing that sealed the deal for Orlando for us was that not only was it No. 1 in simulation and training so we could be close to the customers, but it also had all these schools cranking out 3-D animators,” he says, naming University of Central Florida and Full Sail University in particular. “I just had dinner with one of the guys at Lockheed Martin, and that would never happen in New Orleans.”
Avgikos and his team looked at buildings in several central Florida locations, then they drove north to Lake Mary. With its rolling green hills, trees and campus-like setting, it looked like home. The workers they saw in the area were professional but casual; Digimation’s own employees could even walk to lunch.
“We knew this was the place where we wanted to be,” Avgikos says. “The employees all like it better.”
Business hub: Seminole County’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in Florida, due in large part to the bustling corridor of office complexes, upscale dining and shopping centers and high-end homes and apartments that has blossomed in recent years in Lake Mary/Heathrow. The area is home to a cluster of companies whose products and services are known worldwide, including: financial services firms Fiserv and Bank of New York; technology companies Convergys and Symantec; and consumer brands AAA and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. In early 2009, AccessMediQuip, a firm specializing in insurance authorization, inventory management, equipment procurement and claims processing for implantable medical devices, moved its corporate headquarters into the area from Houston.
Transportation links: Sanford, Seminole County’s largest city, is well connected. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Airlines has expanded substantially in recent years at Orlando Sanford International Airport, and now offers nonstop flights from Sanford to more than 30 U.S. destinations. In addition, Icelandair operates direct flights from Sanford through Reykjavik to several cities in Europe, including Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London-Heathrow, Paris and Stockholm. Sanford is also the southern terminus for Amtrak’s Auto Train, which transports passengers and their vehicles to Washington, D.C., and points in between along the Eastern Seaboard.
Scientists from many disciplines come together to study obesity at Orlando’s Burnham Institute for Medical Research. Teresa Leone, above, is the lab manager at Burnham. [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
“Medical city” takes shape: The first anchor tenants have started moving into the planned “medical city” in the 7,000-acre Lake Nona development in southeast Orlando, creating an influx of high-wage jobs:
- Burnham Institute for Medical Research, which opened in May, eventually will employ more than 300 people with $27.8 million in annual salaries and benefits.
- The University of Central Florida College of Medicine, where the first class of 40 students started classes in August 2009, will employ 350 with $40.6 million in annual salaries and benefits.
- The Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center plans to add 1,170 jobs when it opens in 2012, eventually ramping up to 2,100 and paying $262 million in salaries and benefits.
- Lake Nona’s largest project — a Nemours Children’s Hospital set to open in 2012 — is expected to create almost 5,100 jobs paying $166 million in wages in its construction phase alone. In its first two years after opening, Nemours will create a projected 1,900 hospital jobs paying $109 million in annual wages, eventually building its staff to 2,600.
Getting to know you: In an innovative marketing campaign using a variety of social media, the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission features business leaders, elected officials and residents touting what they like about living and working in central Florida. As part of the “Orlando Works” initiative, Twitter enthusiasts share their favorite things about the region in 140-character descriptions (@OrlandoWorks); businesses post information about their companies on YouTube (www.youtube.com/orlandoworks) and Flickr (Orlando Works group page); and Facebook pages from the Metro Orlando EDC, Film Orlando and bioOrlando provide additional information.
“We needed to expand because we’re growing so rapidly, and we chose Orlando because of the great people in the area.”
Right Location, Right Workforce
Bucking the nationwide negative trend in employment, Kaplan University has hired about 500 people to staff its new online student support center, which opened in April 2009 in east Orlando. The jobs include positions in finance, information technology and administration as well as admissions advisers, financial aid officers and counselors dedicated to assisting active-duty and veteran military students.
“We needed to expand because we’re growing so rapidly, and we chose Orlando because of the great people in the area,” says Valerie Bierman, executive director of admissions for Kaplan University’s Orlando student support center.
The private company, based in Davenport, Iowa, serves more than 58,000 students online and on its 10 campuses in the United States and Europe and is part of Kaplan Inc., a subsidiary of the Washington Post Company. In considering sites for expansion, Kaplan looked for an area with a vibrant business community that would both provide a qualified workforce and be a draw for relocated employees.
Its site in the Central Florida Research Park near the University of Central Florida is ideal, Bierman says, because Kaplan can hire local UCF graduates and others who already work in academics. It’s also close enough to allow for collaboration with Kaplan’s locations in south Florida. Bierman herself moved to Orlando from the Kaplan University’s Fort Lauderdale site.
“I decided I wanted part of that magic, so I decided to locate here as well,” she says. “We’re very pleased here.”
Technical expertise: Forbes magazine ranked the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville metropolitan statistical area as 8th in the nation among technical workforces for 2009. The brain power that has kept the U.S. space program in operation since the 1950s has taken root in the 72-mile long Brevard County, much of it settling in the far south in Palm Bay, which houses about one-fifth of the county’s total population of approximately 500,000. Nestled in this quiet residential community, several technology companies are making major strides in research and development. While mega-defense contractor Harris Corporation is the best-known and continues to land multimillion-dollar contracts worldwide, others are carving their own niches.
Scientific inquiry blossoms: When Kansas City, Mo.-based Midwest Research Institute (MRI) purchased a facility in Palm Bay in fall 2001, it was for the purpose of addressing a challenge to the nation’s security. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, 100 people — part of MRI’s nationwide workforce of 2,000 — labored inside that laboratory to unravel the mystery of letters containing deadly anthrax. Today, MRI, which operates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., for the U.S. Department of Energy, is using its Brevard County site to research algae as a source of fuel, among other projects. In April 2009, MRI established a Clinical Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at its Palm Bay facility. The fully accredited and licensed laboratory provides assay development and support for clinical trials.
Advanced Magnet Lab in Palm Bay was formed in 1995 after Mark Senti, president of a robotics and automation company, met Dr. Rainer Meinke, a scientist with the superconducting supercollider in Texas. Congress had just canceled funding for Meinke’s project, so the two men decided to join forces.
The engineering and development company that resulted from their partnership today focuses on electromagnetic technology and has generated proprietary software and a portfolio of patents in the field. Advanced Magnet Lab’s facilities include a superconductivity lab and areas for research, design and manufacturing, and its work has applications in the medical, aerospace and airline industries, says Senti, VP for business development.
With 12 full-time employees and plans to expand to 80 over the next three years, the company wants to see its work complement that of Brevard County’s other technology companies while, at the same time, taking advantage of a workforce that contains actual rocket scientists.
Senti calls the company’s revolutionary technology “the first fundamental change since electromagnetics were first invented in the mid-1800s.”
“Much like the invention of electricity, superconductivity will have an enormous impact on society, the quality of life, economics and the environment,” he says. “Florida is uniquely poised to benefit from this revolution and has a tremendous number of existing organizations which are synergistic and ‘hungry’ for the next technology wave.”
Among them, Senti says, are: NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee; the Center for Advanced Power Systems and Applied Superconductivity Center at Florida State University; Florida Space Institute; Space Florida; Florida Space Authority; and the Spaceport Research & Technology Institute.
Flying into the future: Daytona Beach is home to the world’s largest accredited aviation-oriented university. Founded in 1925, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is uniquely positioned to assist the aerospace and aviation industries in facing the challenges of today’s economy by:
- Helping formulate a plan for replacing jobs that will be eliminated when NASA ends the space shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center in December 2010
- Managing a consortium of state universities that are developing plans to modernize the nation’s aerospace and aviation industries
- Preparing for an influx of veterans who will need civilian training when they return from war fronts in the Middle East
As one of Volusia County’s largest employers, the university pumps approximately $414 million into the local economy each year. Embry-Riddle serves more than 34,000 students annually in a variety of graduate and undergraduate programs and is awaiting accreditation on doctoral programs in aviation and engineering physics. Together, the Daytona Beach facility, its sister campus in Prescott, Ariz., and a virtual campus train aviators worldwide.
|Live, work, play
Community leaders are joining forces to make Volusia County a more attractive place to live, work and play. Among them is Buddy LaCour, a Daytona Beach native who formed LaCour and Company Real Estate Development about 10 years ago to build everything from shopping centers and restaurants to business condominiums.
The company’s largest and most visible project is the Port Orange Riverwalk, which LaCour is overseeing with partners Ken and Linda McGauran of McGauran Investments. Although the economic downturn has slowed the development somewhat, plans still call for a pedestrian-friendly old Florida-style town center along the Halifax River with a public park, marina, shops, restaurants and 300 condominiums in Phase I.
“We’ve found Port Orange a very viable marketplace for business expansion,”
LaCour says. “I’ve traveled a lot through the years in my business ventures, but now I live in Ponce Inlet. I enjoy going home and sleeping in my own bed.
“We’re focused here,” he says. “We think the stability will return and this is the place to be.”
Raptor Fabrication & Equipment, along with four if its sister companies, is leading the effort to transform the region into the highest concentration of biodiesel plants in the country.
Raptor chose Groveland because the small city on the southwest edge of Lake County had plenty of space for industrial facilities that would allow for welding, storage tanks and other large-scale operations, says Tom Gleason, company president. The group now employs 15 people and is planning to expand.
“We haven’t had any problem at all with the economy,” Gleason says. “We’re moving right along .... We’re working toward bringing more biodiesel companies to Groveland to boost the industry.”
So far, that plan seems to be working; at least two other green-oriented companies not directly affiliated with Raptor have set up shop in the area. Gleason’s goal is for the region to house the highest concentration of biodiesel plants in the country.
To your good health: The wellness industry remains the healthiest sector in this county that is so popular among affluent retirees. One of the latest additions is Regent Surgical Health out of Westchester, Ill., which is partnering with local physicians to open an outpatient surgical center in Mount Dora that will specialize in orthopedic, spine, urology, podiatry and gastroenterology cases. The center is expected to create more than 35 jobs.
Aiming for biotech: With its close proximity to the Lake Nona medical city in Orange County and its availability of property, Osceola is targeting companies that will fit in with a growing biotechnology and research cluster. One recent addition was FPA Clinical Research in downtown Kissimmee, which conducts clinical trials for major drug companies.
Good sports abound: Osceola County is vying to become the amateur sports capital of Florida, bringing in the headquarters for organizations such as the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, a half-million-member group that publishes Bassmaster magazine, and the United States Specialty Sports Association, which has 3.7 million members in amateur baseball, basketball, flag football, golf, karate, lacrosse, soccer, softball, taekwondo and volleyball leagues. Neighboring Walt Disney World is home to the Wide World of Sports complex, which has forged a partnership with ESPN to host and televise amateur sporting events.
Power source: A natural gas line expansion that extended service into the county from neighboring Belleview is good news for businesses along U.S. Highway 301, not to mention residents who want to sell their properties for commercial use. A major beneficiary is Finland-based Outokumpu Stainless Pipe Inc., which uses natural gas to operate its plant in Wildwood. Outokumpu manufactures welded stainless steel pipes used in chemical and petrochemical processing, liquefied natural gas, offshore construction, pulp and paper, food and pharmaceutical processing and automotive and aerospace applications.
Disney’s Wide World of Sports® Complex is home to more than 180 sports and entertainment events throughout the year, including the Children’s Miracle Network Classic PGA tournament. [Photo: ©Walt Disney World]