Mayor Jacobs and I just returned from a very successful trip to New York City. We were there as part of a trip organized by our Orlando Economic Development Commission. The goal: meet with business site selectors and media to share with them that Orlando is more than just the tourism capital of the world. We’re also a great place to do business and a great place for employees to live.
One of our key messages continues to be about Orlando’s growing tech community. When I became Mayor more than ten years ago, I made it a priority to embrace and grow our tech industries.
The reason is clear. We recognize that Orlando’s next major employer is probably just an idea in an entrepreneur’s head. We think it’s important to turn that idea into reality by spending more time on supporting entrepreneurs versus just attracting major employers.
Josh Barro with the New York Times wrote a story based on some of the material he was sent in advance of a meeting. But Mr. Barro’s blog post misses this point. He claims that we as Orlando want to be the “next Silicon Valley.” Ask any Orlando resident and I think you’ll find we want to be the next Silicon Valley just as much as a Silicon Valley resident wants their region to be the next Orlando.
We’re proud of where Orlando is and where we are heading. Especially when it comes to our tech community.
We’ve started by building on our high-tech industries that have had great success over the years because of our theme parks and space program.
But don’t just take my word for it, here’s what former President Bill Clinton was talking about more than three years ago:
You’ve got Orlando with those one hundred computer-simulation companies. They got into computer simulation because you have the Disney and Universal theme parks, and Electronic Arts’ video-games division. And the Pentagon and NASA desperately need simulation, for different reasons. So there you’ve got the University of Central Florida, the biggest unknown university in America, fifty-six thousand students, changing curriculum, at least once a year, if not more often, to make sure they’re meeting whatever their needs are, and they’re recruiting more and more professors to do this kind of research that will lead to technology transfers to the companies.”
And while Mr. Barro claims that there’s no reason for hospitality-based technology companies to cluster in Orlando, we’re seeing it happen. If you’re planning a vacation, even if it’s not in Orlando, there’s a good chance you’ll be using technology that came out of our region.
One of the leading hotel technology companies, TravelClick has their largest office in Downtown Orlando where they have developed the technology that allows major hotel companies like Loews, MGM and Hard Rock to push their hotel rooms to websites like expedia.com and hotels.com. TravelClick’s technology alone books an average of 25,000 room nights per day. And that doesn’t include the hotel and hotel website companies who have set up e-commerce teams in Orlando.
And the same goes for theme parks. Sure, as Mr. Barro points out neither Disney nor Universal have their headquarters here. But a lot of the consumer technology is developed here. And these major employers have caused entrepreneurs to start their own attraction technology companies. More than 20 million tickets are sold every year through accesso’s Orlando-based ticketing technology. While they no longer technically have their headquarters in the Orlando region, it’s because they were purchased for about $20 million. They have chosen to keep their staff here in Orlando and I have no doubt that it’s because Orlando is a great place for a hospitality-based company to do business.
And we have plenty of other large success stories. A couple weeks ago Orlando-based Pentaho sold to Hitachi for $500 million with plans to stay in Orlando.
We could go on and talk about our restaurant industry that is also growing in Orlando with more than ten major brands having headquarters in the Orlando region. And all with their technology teams here.
But instead I hope that the next time Mr. Barro comes to Orlando, he joins us downtown for a Tech Meetup or stops by Medical City at Lake Nona to see our growing life sciences industry, which region-wide includes almost 5,000 companies, or just talk to any of our many startups who have chosen to stay in Orlando versus a move to Silicon Valley or New York City.
In the meantime, we’ll continue our focus on being the next Orlando.
– Buddy Dyer, Mayor
Our leaders in our tech community have also provided their reaction to the article here.