Follow city-data.com founder on our
Forum or

Orlando: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Orlando is known around the world for its major entertainment attractions, especially Walt Disney World, Epcot, and the film studios. Representing a 4.7 percent increase from the previous year, nearly 45 million tourists and conventioneers visited Orlando in 2003, pumping about $24.9 billion into the region's economy.

Behind the scenes of the area's tourism and entertainment industry is a dynamic and diversified economy that has expanded enormously. Among its most important industry sectors are high technology, aviation and aerospace, film and television production, biotechnology, and manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution.

The aviation and aerospace industry has had a foothold in the Orlando area for decades. The flight training industry was drawn to the area's favorable year-round climate, and military air bases were established in World War II. Since then, with a number of international and regional airports and thriving high technology expertise, the area has given rise to companies providing aircraft and ground support services; Signature Air Services, one of the largest such companies in the world, is based in Orlando. Some of the world's most advanced flight training schools, such as Delta Connection Academy and FlightSafety International, are located in the area. Lockheed Martin Corp., a major defense contractor, has a strong presence in metro Orlando, and The Boeing Co. and Harris Corp. are among Florida's top contractors.

The influx of technology-related companies to the area has made Orlando one of the fastest growing high technology centers in the nation. The metro area has the country's largest concentration of modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) businesses, research centers, and educational facilities. The MS&T sector, which has its roots in military services, provides applications in such diverse fields as homeland security, emergency services, entertainment, information and medical technologies, optics and photonics, and transportation. It accounts for more than 100 area companies and $2.5 billion in gross regional product. Another strong segment of the high technology industry is software. This field, another off-shoot of military applications, focuses on financial services but includes other areas like utilities, billing, higher education, multimedia, animation, and military training. More than 1,000 software companies are based in Metro Orlando, generating nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.

Motion picture and television production is a major element in Orlando's economy. Metro Orlando was a $586 million market in 2003, up from $2.5 million only 15 years prior. Work ranges from major motion pictures and network series to studio activities. Digital media combines two of Orlando's top industries—MS&T and film/television production—into a $9 billion per year enterprise. Known as one of the nation's top 12 clusters for digital media, Orlando employs 30,000 workers in more than 1,000 digital media companies. The field's applications include website design, interactive video, video game development, military simulations, special effects, theme park ride and shows, and computer animation.

Also benefiting from the area's specialization in high technology is the field of advanced manufacturing. Companies involved in this field provide high tech parts for a broad range of products and applications, such as power generation systems, wireless communications, computers, medical imaging, instruments and control, and automotive systems. Among the largest advanced manufacturers in the area are Agere Systems Inc., Mitsubishi Power Systems Inc., and Westinghouse Power Corp.

In addition to advanced manufacturing, Orlando is a prime locale for other types of manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. New manufacturers have been attracted in part by Orlando's efficient air service, low cost of doing business, growing work force, and high quality of life. Approximately 2,200 manufacturing companies are located there, including Hughes Supply Inc. and Constar International Inc. Plastics is a key sector, with Tupperware Corp. leading the field. Other important manufacturing segments include metal fabrication and parts, infrastructure materials, defense, power plant systems, microelectronics, and laser equipment. As for distribution, Metro Orlando is one of the world's few quadramodal transportation centers, with the ability to transport goods via land, air, sea, and space. The area's network of interstate highways, its international and regional airports, and its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center and the Port of Tampa, combine to give Orlando a distribution advantage over other areas. Major distributors in the area include DaimlerChrysler Corp., Kraft Foods Nabisco Division, Circuit City Stores Inc., and Whirlpool Corp. Moreover, Metro Orlando's warehousing capabilities include 67.9 million square feet of industrial space, in which such items as restaurant equipment, healthcare products, auto parts, and consumer electronics are stored.

Orlando's fertile farmlands, regional healthcare system, and expertise in photonics and MS&T have given rise to a strong biotechnology industry. More than 500 biotechnology and life sciences companies earn $3.6 billion each year in such areas as research, clinical trials, agricultural sciences, and medical training. This vibrant field has applications in industrial food ingredients, plant reproduction, bioterrorism defense, medical products, and modeling systems for laboratories.

Items and goods produced: aviation and aerospace equipment, computer software, power generation systems, wireless communications, processed foods, plastic products, agricultural products, data systems equipment, film and video productions, metal fabrication and parts, power plant systems, microelectronics, and laser equipment

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission attracts new business investment by marketing the Orlando region worldwide as a top location for business. It also works with local companies to assist them with expansion plans and other business concerns. Its key services and support range from relocation and expansion expertise to export counsel to long-term planning with its community partners. Orange County commissioners aggressively provide inducements, such as tax credits and refunds for developing jobs and properties in targeted areas, to companies that will have a significant impact on the economy. The city of Orlando also offers incentives to new or expanding businesses, including tax credits, assistance with development fees, and discounts on film production costs.

State programs

Enterprise Florida is a partnership between Florida's government and business leaders and is the principal economic development organization for the state of Florida. Enterprise Florida's mission is to increase economic opportunities for all Floridians by supporting the creation of quality jobs, a well-trained workforce, and globally competitive businesses. It pursues this mission in cooperation with its statewide network of economic development partners.

Among the incentive programs managed at the state level is the Economic Development Transportation Fund, which provides up to $2 million to fund the cost of transportation projects, such as access roads and road widening, required for the establishment, expansion, or retention of businesses in Florida. The state's Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund rewards the creation of jobs in certain industries. Florida also offers various sales and use tax exemptions for machinery and equipment purchase, electric energy, research and development, and other aspects of doing business in the area.

Job training programs

Workforce Central Florida, representing Metro Orlando, is the regional arm of Workforce Florida Inc., an agency charged with administering the stat's workforce policy, programs, and services. Quick Response Training is a state-administered program that provides funding for customized training for new or expanding businesses, while Incumbent Worker Training serves existing businesses.

Development Projects

In a developmental about-face, in recent years attention has shifted away from theme parks to downtown Orlando, where many of the most high-profile projects are taking place in the central city. High-rise offices and apartments are being built, and the city hopes that such projects will accelerate the downtown's evolution to a 24-hour hub of activity for the tens of thousands of newcomers who move to Orlando each year. In the city's northeast corner, the former Orlando Naval Training Center is slated to be redeveloped into a self-contained community where some 5,000 people could be living by 2010. In the city's southeast corner, new neighborhoods are taking shape near the ever-growing Orlando International Airport. The largely undeveloped area is expected to become home to more than 28,000 residents by 2020, with millions of square feet in retail, office, industrial, hotel, and government space also available. Millions of dollars have been spent to revitalize the city's historic, African-American Parramore neighborhood. By 2020 the Central Business District is expected to be a distinct family-oriented portion of downtown Orlando, complete with theaters, galleries, museums, and parks, as well as office and retail space.

The Sanctuary, a $60 million residential, office, and retail development, is slated for completion in 2005. The following year will see the completion of two other developments, The Vue at Lake Eola and the Premier Trade Plaza. Office, residential, and retail space will also be available at 55 West on the Esplanade, a $140 million project.

Economic Development Information: Downtown Development Board/Community Redevelopment Agency, 400 S. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801; telephone (407)246-2555; fax (407)246-3359. Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, 301 E. Pine St., Ste. 900, Orlando, FL 32801; telephone (407)422-7159; fax (407)425-6428; email info@orlandoedc.com

Commercial Shipping

With global shipping opportunities via air, land, sea, and space, Metro Orlando is one of the world's few quadramodal transportation centers. Orlando International Airport is the 15th largest in the U.S. and 23rd largest in the world. It offers non-stop service to 72 domestic cities, more than any other airport in Florida. The airport is also the site of Foreign Trade Zone #42, an area that permits foreign goods to be stored or processed without import duty. The Orlando/Sanford International Airport is the site of Foreign Trade Zone #250, the largest trade zone in Florida. The Orlando area has more than 30 trucking company terminals, and because Florida has deregulated the trucking industry within its borders, many shippers report rates of 10 percent or less than the national average. Interstates 4 and 95 provide access to many areas throughout the state and the Southeast, and 62 motor freight carriers have local terminals or warehouses. Amtrak provides commercial rail service, and CSX Transportation and Florida Central Railroad transport cargo. CSX Intermodal has a terminal located in Orlando. Orlando's nearest navigable waterways are at Sanford, 20 miles away, Port Canaveral, 40 miles away, and Port of Tampa, 84 miles away. The nearby Kennedy Space Center offers deep water ports as well as launch facilities.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

According to National Real Estate Investor, Metro Orlando added 19,300 jobs in 2003, an increase of 2.1 percent from the previous year. This momentum is expected to continue, as Orlando was projected by Business 2.0 magazine in 2003 to have the nation's second-highest ten-year job growth rate, 31.9 percent, through 2013. Much of that increase will derive from the area's key growth sectors, including software, film and television production, aviation and aerospace, biotechnology, and modeling, simulation and training. The available labor pool in these industries is dependent on the availability of educational programs in those fields. In this respect, Orlando not only provides the demand for quality personnel, it creates the supply.

The University of Central Florida offers programs specifically designed to train students for many of these industries. Among them are the Institute for Simulation and Training, Center for Advanced Transportation Systems Simulation, School of Film and Digital Media, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, Center for Applied Human Factors in Aviation, Aerospace Engineering Program, Space Education and Research Center, and Biomolecular Science Center. Other regional schools, such as Valencia Community College and Seminole Community College, offer degrees in industry-related fields. The Florida Simulation Center, National Center for Simulation, and the Digital Animation and Visual Effects School offers similar programs. Flight training schools like Delta Connection Academy and FlightSafety International operate independently or in cooperation with such organizations as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Orlando metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 925,700

Number of workers employed in . . .

manufacturing: 41,800

trade, transportation and utilities: 174,000

information: 24,900

financial activities: 57,100

professional and business services: 154,300

educational and health services: 93,500

leisure and hospitality: 169,900

other services: 46,100

government: 103,500

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $14.09 (2003 statewide average)

Unemployment rate: 3.8% (December 2004)

Orlando: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Walt Disney World 53,500
Orange County Public Schools 22,807
State of Florida Government 17,200
Adventist Health System 17,059
Florida Hospital 14,225
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 13,139
Orlando Regional Healthcare System 12,754
Universal Orlando 12,000
Federal Government 10,800
Publix Supermarkets, Inc. 9,927

Cost of Living

The cost of living in metro Orlando is lower than the national average. With the U.S. average at an index of 100, Orlando's grocery index is 95.3 and its housing index is 87.8 in 2004 (ACCRA data).

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Orlando area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $223,128

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 97.7 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: None for personal; 5.5% for corporations

State sales tax rate: 6.0%

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None for city; 0 to 1.0% for county

Property tax rate: $21.177 per $1,000 of assessed property value (2003)

Economic Information: Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, 301 E. Pine St., Ste. 900, Orlando, FL 32801; telephone (407)422-7159; fax (407)425-6428; email info@orlandoedc.com