Creating a Promising Future
Orlando was built on innovation. Rightly named the “happiest place on Earth,” we’re also the home of “next-generation thinking.”
Since the early days of Martin Marietta (now known as Lockheed Martin), Florida Technological University (now the University of Central Florida) and Walt Disney World, our region was designed to be on the cutting edge. The innovators behind Orlando’s advanced engineering, aerospace technology and tourism industry developed new ways of doing things that have been replicated the world over.
Fifty years later, Orlando is the world’s largest modeling and simulation cluster, home to the second-largest university in the nation, outranking Duke and Harvard in its number of patents, and the country’s No. 1 travel destination.
The true impact of what these early pioneers created in their respective fields is better appreciated when you look at how each has influenced the transformational projects happening in our region today.
Innovation Isn’t an Accident
Utilizing our collective strengths, Orlando’s recent innovations are the result of deliberate efforts and partnerships, including Lake Nona’s Medical City, Creative Village, the Central Florida Research Park adjacent to UCF and Wellness Way in Lake County. These initiatives are not one-offs or silos. They are the products of careful planning and strategic alignment of resources to create an integrated network of knowledge assets across a wide spectrum of industries.
Innovation doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not accidental. It is one thing for Orlando to be known worldwide, but it’s even better to be internationally recognized for thought leadership and forward thinking. That’s what attracts the workforce of tomorrow to want to live and grow somewhere – the ability to work toward the next “new way of doing things” and succeed.
That’s what drew me to Orlando, and it’s what excites me about our next 50 years.
In benchmarking research while serving as CEO of the Research Triangle Park (RTP) in North Carolina and president of the International Association of Science Parks, I learned of places with the right ingredients and potential to accomplish success similar to that of RTP. One of the most successful research parks and best-recognized real estate brands in the world, RTP made its mark through the work of leaders who were deeply committed to an extraordinary vision, one they knew would never be finished in their lifetime.
That same spirit, those same ingredients, and the same or even greater potential are present in Orlando.
Road Map for the Future
Launching a Medical City in less than a decade is no small feat. Neither is growing UCF’s nationally ranked business incubation system across four counties, or developing an international hub for simulation with a 30,000-strong local workforce.
These initiatives are not what you’d find in older-model legacy research or science parks, where universities and businesses simply set up in the same geographic space. Instead, Orlando’s efforts are linking people, jobs and knowledge seamlessly throughout an entire region – creating the next generation of economic development.
It’s why Orlando has been named among the top 10 places to start a business and a promising tech hub to watch.
In a way, Orlando has turned itself into one giant co-working space, where people with different skills and experiences are pooling their talents and resources to develop the best product or service.
By bringing together entrepreneurs, researchers and business executives to work with each other on Orlando’s transformational projects, we’ve created a system of connected thought leaders building upon each other’s strengths. Simulation offers a prime example of this connectivity as it has moved from military to medical and gaming to theme park entertainment.
By incorporating academia and hands-on educational experiences into the mix, we are ensuring a skilled talent pipeline that will fuel these jobs of the future right in our own backyard. Downtown Orlando’s Creative Village was envisioned as a hub where students would learn through doing and graduate into local, high-wage jobs.
It’s our job to foster this type of growth and remain good stewards of the “next-gen” model. That’s why the Orlando EDC continues its support of these innovative projects by recruiting like-minded businesses and helping local company leaders expand to grow our regional knowledge ecosystem organically, but with purpose.
Because that’s how we’re going to create the most promising future for our citizens.
Rick L. Weddle is the president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission. He serves as the first American president of the International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation and was elected as the first Chairman of the Board of the International Economic Development Council.