Opinion

Medical City and Orlando’s Economy

Orlando’s economy is, as most know, heavily invested in tourism. While we appreciate our vibrant tourism industry as a tremendous benefit to our economy, a heavy concentration of employment in a particular economic sector can be risky.

One timely example is the recently declared bankrupt city of Detroit. A substantial concentration of employment in the automotive and related industries brought great wealth to that region during the height of the domestic auto industry, but subsequent restructuring and globalization turned the once-proud city into a shell of its former self.

Orlando got a taste of economic loss in the wake of 9/11. Those who lived in the region during the aftermath of that tragedy described Orlando as eerily quiet and empty. The shock to tourism proved to be transitory, but it was a wake-up call to regional and statewide leaders.

The old adage of not putting all of your eggs in one basket is sage advice. While diversifying an investment portfolio may be a relatively easy task, diversifying the city’s economy is more daunting. The benefits, however, are just as tangible and more widespread.

Diversifying a regional economy takes significant time. Orlando did not become a tourism powerhouse in a matter of a few years; it has taken decades. The speed with which a region’s economy evolves is usually quite slow, similar to how a glacier affects the landscape.

UCF’s College of Medicine and the Medical City that continues to grow around it at Lake Nona is transforming Orlando’s economy at a pace that is more cataclysmic than glacial. This rapid growth has captured the attention of economic development professionals nationwide.

During the most recent recession, the health services sector was the single sector in Florida’s economy that consistently added jobs. Florida’s population is older than the national population as a whole, and as a result, statewide demands for health care services continue to grow.

Combine our older population, the baby boom generation’s imminent retirement, and the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of health care coverage, and you have a growing demand for health care services that will translate into job growth.

The hospitals, research facilities and related establishments at Lake Nona Medical City offer the prospect of employment to thousands of people in Central Florida and represent an ongoing diversification of our region’s economy. While the health care sector isn’t impervious to recession, our region’s economy will suffer far less as a result of the job growth at Lake Nona Medical City. In this instance, diversification translates into a positive prognosis for Central Florida’s future.

BY SEAN SNAITH

Director, UCF Institute for Economic Competitiveness