A reeling tourism industry in Orlando provides an opportunity for tech to establish itself as a top industry in the region.
Yes, tourism is too big to ever be toppled as the driver of our economy, despite crushing declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
That should not be the goal anyway.
But after failing to capitalize on opportunity when the region seemed ripe for diversification multiple times before, tech’s time has come.
Here’s why: technology is expanding in directions that very closely align with the region’s strengths.
Tourism is struggling because of COVID
My former colleague at the Orlando Sentinel Scott Maxwell has a great column on this (he’s been all over this for years).
The thrust of Maxwell’s argument is that the region failed in the past to learn from adversity.
Despite multiple periods of uncertainty in the economy, this region still relies way too much on tourism.
Now, Walt Disney World is set to lay off more than 6,500 people as the region’s more than 500 hotels struggle.
That’s a terrible equation that city leaders should worry about.
But while we can rail against our economic environment for days, we should instead focus on strategies that help tech fill the void.
Tech should lead resurgence
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has championed tech for years, at least in speeches, as a potential economic driver.
It’s hard to argue against that.
We have one of the deepest defense industries in the world, with each military branch’s simulation headquarters here.
We host the biggest defense and simulation conference here every year. That is, until coronavirus shut down I/ITSEC this year.
EA’s Maitland presence will move downtown next year, setting up a potential video game business hub right as gaming’s popularity hits an all-time high.
In addition, job ads indicate that high-profile gaming company Unity Technologies plans to build its East Coast presence here.
Then there is a growing startup community, the second-largest university in the country and Kissimmee’s push to become a hub for sensor research.
We need cohesion
So the components are here.
Now, long-disorganized and disparate industries need to push in the same direction.
It’s getting industry and academic giants publicly on social media, celebrating what companies unrelated to them accomplish.
That creates a unified megaphone.
I have said for years that if we have six major industries, we have six silos pushing in six directions.
Some organizations have started to address that. That’s encouraging.
But if this entire community comes together in messaging, tech can rival tourism as a driver of our economy.
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