ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost 50 years to the day since the Magic Kingdom’s grand opening, the hospitality and leisure industries have been expelled from their throne as the Orlando area’s top source of jobs, according to officials from the Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP).
The new crown wearer? Professional services, which include many white-collar jobs like bankers, lawyers, advertisers and accountants.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s September data report showed that field employed 220,000 – or 18% -- of the metro area’s labor force. Hospitality and leisure accounted for 16.5%. The two fields first swapped rankings during the pandemic in 2020, but recent OEP data shows white-collar jobs being steadily added at faster rates than hospitality.
The shift may be shocking for a city accustomed to lauding its globally known theme parks, but development experts said they’ve seen the change coming for years.
“Every part of our value proposition that made Orlando a very competitive place for businesses to grow has gotten stronger,” OEP President & CEO Tim Guliani said. “Our economy has become more diversified.”
As recently as 2019, hospitality employed more than one in five people in the metro area. Guliani said the coronavirus pandemic simply helped hasten the change. The hospitality industry shrunk by 32% between September 2019 and the same month in 2020, reports show.
For Orlando, the rise of many industries can be linked directly to the arrival of the area’s theme parks, beginning with the Magic Kingdom that was famously described as being built in a swamp during construction.
“Having a tremendous brand out there that’s known globally has put us on the map,” Guliani said. “It has bought us these cultural amenities, this air transportation that all of these companies are looking for.”
In addition, area leaders credit the resorts with the rise of UCF, giving Central Florida hundreds of thousands of young adults ready to jump into professional careers. Combined with the weather, Guliani said it wasn’t difficult to make a business case for a corporation to open a Central Florida branch.
That momentum has led to Orlando vying for the title of Florida’s technology hub. While banks dominate the skyline of downtown, innovative companies are buying up land in Lake Nona, a neighborhood with autonomous vehicles and a binary-decorated parking garage. Disney recently announced 2,000 California-based jobs will be relocated to a corporate campus there.
“We’ve led the country in growth in our tech labor pool for the last several years,” Guliani explained. “So you get on that growth list year after year, then you start to build a critical mass. And that’s kind of where we’re finding ourselves now.”
It’s a trend that will likely keep hospitality from reclaiming its title long-term, even as hundreds of thousands of people remain employed by Disney, Universal and SeaWorld for years to come. Guliani said many supporting employees within those companies qualified as Professional Services, despite working for a hospitality-based operation.
He added that he was excited for the region’s future, naming multiple corporations that recently announced expansions in the region, including KPMG.
“While tourism is a main feature of our economy and of our brand, we’ve now begun to add these other elements,” he said. “These larger companies that have brand recognition can help us tell that story.”
Cox Media Group