Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, which works to provide the Orlando region with quality jobs, economic growth, broad-based prosperity and a sustainable quality of life, is this week’s featured guest. In our conversation, we talk about the effort to bring Amazon to Orlando and what it would mean to Florida. We also discuss the impact of tourism, agriculture, and the tech industries in Orlando and about balancing the business needs of all of these industries.
Chris Cate:Welcome to the Fluent in Floridian Podcast, featuring the sunshine state’s brightest leaders. Talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. I’m your host Chris Cate. In this episode created by Salter Mitchell PR, I’m talking to Tim Giuliani. The President and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, which works to bring quality jobs and economic growth to Central Florida. In our conversation we’ll talk about the current effort to bring Amazon to Orlando, and what that would mean for all of Florida. We also discuss the impact of tourism, agriculture, and the tech industries in Orlando, and about balancing the needs of all of these industries. You can hear it all right now.
Tim, thanks so much for being on the show. You’ve spent your entire career in economic development and had success in all of your roles along the way. Can you tell me a little bit about how you became so interested in economic development?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah. When I first started in this work, my goal was really to get involved in my community. To find a way to impact something that would be important for everyone. So I picked working in this field and at the Chamber of Commerce in St. Augustine, because I knew it was a great place where people came to get things done. I wanted to be a part of that, so that’s why I started in the beginning, and that’s actually where it keeps me going today.
Chris Cate:You’ve worked for The Florida Chamber of Commerce, The Gainesville Chamber, The Raleigh North Carolina Chamber, and now the Orlando Economic Partnership. Can you tell me how different the work is at a statewide chamber, like the Florida Chamber of Commerce does, versus a local chamber?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah. At the state level you’re really working on policy issues that impact businesses throughout the state. In some cases you’re advocating at the federal level for issues impacting businesses in your state. At a local level you’re more focused on community regional issues. The issues may broaden from what people perceive as core business issues. Because really when you’re working at the local or regional level, and you’re working on economic development issues in 2017 as opposed to say, 1987, they’re very different. Today the currency is talent. All companies are really after, where am I gonna hire innovative people that are gonna advance my company in this type of environment? So talent’s driving the conversation.
So then companies are getting more and more concerned about policies that impact talent. Even in North Caroline when I was there, we spent a lot of time giving opposition to HB2, the bathroom bill. Not only was it bad, and it was the wrong thing at a very human level, it was also bad for the economy, and bad for the talent attraction in North Carolina. So we had a big voice in that, so the issues can be different. There’s probably even a greater sense of community when you’re working with people on a day-to-day basis that your kids may play little league together, you might see at Publix.
Chris Cate:The Orlando Partnership is a relatively new organization after the Central Florida Partnership, and the Orlando Economic Development Commission merged together. Can you tell me why that merger made sense, and how it’s better helping the people of Orlando?
Tim Giuliani:Oh absolutely. You’re taking two organizations that have long histories in Central Florida, both impacting in different ways. The Central Florida Partnership is focused on community issues, and community development, and leadership development. In an economic development sense, I would call that product development. So really, what does it take to make the community a more interesting place, a better place to give people more opportunity?
Then you take the work of the Economic Development Commission, which was conducting research, also marketing Central Florida to the world. And doing all the sales activity to try to get more companies to locate here, or expand here. So really what they did from a leadership perspective is bring the sales and marketing function for the region together with the product development function.
Now you have one voice. You’re establishing one vision for Central Florida. And you’ve got the entire business community rallying behind its. So it made a lot of sense from a leadership perspective. Particularly, dealing with the more complex issues that we deal with now, as the fastest growing metro in America.
Chris Cate:You mentioned the bathroom issue that you had to deal with in Raleigh. Can you tell me just broadly what lessons in general you’ve been able to take from leading the Gainesville Chamber, and the Raleigh Chamber that are helping you now?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah. Well, I mean it feels great to be back in Florida, and back to why I started in this line of work. Being able to impact my home state, and certainly care a lot about what the future holds for Florida. What I was able to learn when I was in Gainesville or Raleigh, leadership from the business community really, really matters. And really helps to set direction for a community.
Certainly a community can be successful without a voice, but to really be forward looking, to take advantage of opportunities, to bring important issues to the forefront. If you’re in the business community taking an active leadership role in the community, it can make a world of difference. It can get things done faster. It can give voice to issues that might have gone unnoticed. And it really makes for a much more dynamic community.
Chris Cate:When you’re talking to businesses about coming to Orlando, what is your basic elevator pitch for why Orlando’s a great place to do business?
Tim Giuliani:Well, there’s a lot to that story. Actually, what we work on most is telling that story, and changing perceptions, because everyone knows Orlando. It’s one of the most well branded cities in the world. The top travel destination in the world. So people know Orlando. They think they know Orlando. In fact, they really only know half of Orlando. So what we do in the pitch, is getting companies exposed to the other half of Orlando. I’ll give you a couple of quick examples.
For instance, talent is the currency. We’ve talked about that. We have 500,000 college students within a 100 mile radius of Orlando. That’s a very rich talent pool. You look at the number of degrees even in technical fields, even if we get into software engineers, we’re outpacing Boulder and Austin, for instance, in developing software engineers right here in Central Florida. So there’s a whole part of the story around talent that people are surprised to learn.
Then talk about infrastructure. Right now, this region is investing over $10 billion in infrastructure. From the Spaceport on Cape Canaveral, to our airport that’s investing $3 billion in doubling the size. Brightline is connecting from South Florida into Orlando, over $600 million expansion of SunRail, which is the commuter rail going north to south through the metro area. Rebuilding Interstate 4, through I4 Ultimate Project, over a $2 billion project.
So you look around America and try to find a community that’s producing this type of talent pool, and investing in this type of infrastructure for the future, we’re really a city that’s wired for growth.
Chris Cate:Right now, there’s a very competitive battle across North America to be the home of the new Amazon Headquarters. Obviously, that’s a company that could have a tremendous impact, not only on Orlando, but the whole state of Florida. Can you tell me a little bit about the effort to attract Amazon to Orlando?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah, I’d love to. Certainly, if we were doing this podcast in any city in America, they would be talking about why Amazon should be coming there. So number one, it’s a fantastic opportunity for folks that do what we do in economic development to really expose the process. And talk about the different things that drive company decisions. Everyone would expect sites and buildings, you gotta have a place to do this. Infrastructure and talent really raise to the top of their list.
So that’s sending great signals across America about what’s important. We just went over some of the key points on talent and infrastructure here in Central Florida. That’s certainly part of our package. But what’s going into our process is a lot of community involvement throughout the region. There’s been a realization that it’s almost like Central Florida’s been preparing for Amazon for the last decade.
When you talk about Amazon, it’s a growth company. When you talk about Orlando, you’re talking about a growth city and a growth region. When you talk about the state, you’re talking about a growth state. So what does it take to keep that going, to be prepared? We’re a very inclusive place. If anyone had any doubt, they saw how this city responded to the Pulse tragedy last year. And just saw what a very welcoming and inclusive place.
When you look at Orlando versus other cities in America that are growing, and growing fast, we have a huge advantage here in Central Florida. Because of the … not only do we have four airports, but the one that is the biggest, Orlando International, who probably most of the listeners have flown in or out of, is undergoing a $3 billion renovation and expansion. It just was named by JD Power and Associates, the number one airport for customer satisfaction.
They’re leading in the number of destinations it serves directly. So we have a huge asset here in the airport that allows global companies like Amazon to get around the world. To get to Seattle multiple times a week, direct. To get to New York almost 100 times a week, direct.
So we have tremendous assets that have been generated here over the years, in large part because of tourism. The tax dollars that tourism has generated. The leaders here have invested in infrastructure and community venues in the airport. So it’s amazing to see what that industry has brought for this entire region.
Chris Cate:Because of the airports that we have, does that help the issue of Florida being very … it’s a peninsula on the far east coast of the United States. It’s not a centrally located state. So is ground transportation an issue for Florida when it comes to attracting big national, worldwide even businesses?
Tim Giuliani:No. On thing that’s certainly changed in the last several years is just the global nature of companies. So when you’re talking about doing business with other parts of the world, being on the east coast instead of the west coast could make a world of difference to the quality of life to those people that are working internationally. And being able to be on a better work schedule with folks, say in Europe. So we actually got … there’re pluses and minuses to everything.
But we’re also the gateway to Latin American to South America to Caribbean. So there’s a lot that we bring to the table as well from a location standpoint. But I would say the interesting dynamic there is because of Orlando International Airport and because of Sanford International Airport, a lot of that’s mitigated because of the tremendous access we have via air travel. And very competitively priced compared to other large airports around the country. So a lot of [inaudible 00:12:31] by the tremendous assets we have here if you want to make the list of pros and cons of east coast versus west coast versus middle of the country.
Chris Cate:How do you decide what incentives to offer a business like Amazon, or really any business considering Orlando?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah, it’s a good question. Well, you have to look at the impact that a company like this is gonna have on the community. The number of jobs, and therefore payroll it’s gonna generate. What kind of impact that’s gonna have to everything from home ownership, auto ownership, to taxes people will pay. Which will generate everything from trails and better safety and security, and better schools. So there’s a big gain that any city that lands Amazon’s gonna get. In some ways you gotta say, what’s that worth? And what incentives are appropriate to put on the table?
So in Florida, as incentives has evolved over time, they’ve gotten to a point of being very performance driven. So you’ve gotta create the jobs to get the incentives. In this latest session we’ve added workforce and infrastructure investment capability. So these are things that will impact all Floridians in the region. I think as we’ve gotten smarter about incentives those will apply to Amazon and just keep us in the hunt. The decision will be based, first, on the fundamentals of the market. Then they’re bound to look at the competitive nature of this. So a lot will still have to be played out.
Chris Cate:Is there one incentive that just businesses in general look to, or to say this is the most important incentive we really need to make the move to Florida?
Tim Giuliani:Well, there’s a lot of things. I mean if you want to broaden the definition of incentive, most companies, and Amazon included, first looks at all sorts of things. They need to make sure, for instance from a talent perspective, they’re gonna be able to hire the people they need to be successful going forward. So if they can’t answer that question to the positive, you’re eliminated. There’s no point in setting up shop.
Then they start to get into other questions. The infrastructure questions, school system questions, tax climate. We’ve got a great tax climate in Florida. So there’s a long list of issues that they look at. Then the companies that make really sound business decisions will get to the incentive conversation. But it’s long after they’ve checked the box on all these other requirements that they’re looking for.
We have great talent incentives here. We’ve got colleges, universities, community colleges that are more than will go work with companies like this. To be innovative and to align their graduates with opportunities for them after graduation. So I think we have a lot going for us from a talent and education and infrastructure perspective.
I think we’ll be pretty competitive when it comes to incentives. But I don’t think Florida’s the type of state that you’re gonna see go make a couple billion dollar offer to Amazon. Maybe other states will, and maybe they think that’s right for their situation. But I think for Florida, we’re on a great trajectory, and I think that will benefit Amazon, and I think Amazon in turn will benefit the state.
Chris Cate:Since Tampa is so close to Orlando, do you find Tampa to be more of a competitor for businesses, or actually an ally in your efforts to bring businesses to Central Florida?
Tim Giuliani:Well, I’d never look at another city in Florida as a competitor, number one. Anything that happens good in Tampa’s really good for Orlando, and vice versa. We certainly work with our counterparts in Tampa. As we both grow, both cities, both regions, we just get closer and closer together. As anyone that’s driven on I-4 can recently tell you. There’s a lot of connectivity between the markets.
For instance, the cooperation and collaboration between UCF and USF has really helped over the years with the High Tech Corridor Council, advancing the innovation economy. So we’ve had a lot of connectivity. Orlando’s ranked number one by JD Power and Tampa’s ranked number two, so both stellar performances on that measure. So you see them growing together, and us as leaders in the state need to make sure and continue to foster that. Because what’s good for Tampa should be good for Orlando, and vice versa.
Chris Cate:You mentioned earlier how important tourism is to Orlando and how big the industry is there. Can you give me an idea of really how important tourism is to Orlando? And if you expect Orlando to be more or less reliant on tourism 10 years from now?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah, that’s a great question. We do have a growing industry in tourism. And you’ve got other growing industries here, like, aviation, and the aerospace life sciences, and healthcare. You have a number of growing industries. So who outpaces who? We’ll see in 10 years how that all shakes out. But tourism right now is about a third of the economy here, actually a little than a third of the economy [inaudible 00:17:57] Florida, and that includes retail.
A lot of people are really shocked to find that out. Even our own campaign is, You don’t know the half of it. The ad campaign really should be, You don’t know two thirds of it, but I don’t think it’s quite as catchy. So it’s astounding to see how much diversity has some to Central Florida over the last decade. It really should better position us when there is a downturn in the US economy. Orlando should be better positioned this time than it was last time, and quite frankly that’s what it’s all about.
It’s all about people and their opportunities and careers. If we could help to diversify the economy on a continual basis, that’s good for everybody across the market.
Chris Cate:Since tourism has so much more exposure, people are more familiar with it. Is it harder to balance the needs of tourism based businesses with agriculture or tech businesses, because they’re not getting quite as much exposure to the general public?
Tim Giuliani:I think that’s in part our job, to tell the story of Orlando beyond tourism, and build on the tourism brand. Because tourism’s what’s driven this economy for many decades. But people sometimes forget that even before tourism, you had the founding for a technological university, now UCF, that helped bring this country to the moon. That happened right here in Central Florida.
So for years, decades, there’s been a big tech focus in Orlando. That’s how the story had been thriving, it just hasn’t been told. That’s why we’re investing so much money in our branding campaign. To make sure that business leaders around the world know about Orlando’s other half of the story. From an in-the-market perspective of who gets more attention. The great thing that’s been done is that this isn’t a win or win/lose proposition. This is a win/win proposition.
Because some of the tax money that’s been spent on tourism has been invested in community venues. So come today, to downtown Orlando, and go see a Broadway show at the Dr. Phillips Center, and tell me that’s not a first class experience on par with anything in the world. Go to a Orlando Magic game, or a concert in the Amway Center and tell me you could find a better venue anywhere in the world. So it’s amazing what tourism has done for the overall economy.
Then because of the influx of so many visitors on a daily basis, the infrastructure here is built for the future, as you can see. I mean come through and see the construction. It may not be great today to deal with construction, but all that means is that we as a region are preparing for the future. Those investments have been made, and we have tourism to thank for much of that.
Chris Cate:Are there any projects that are under way that a lot of people don’t know about, that you’re really excited about, in the next two or three years they’re gonna really make a difference to Orlando?
Tim Giuliani:Yeah. One of them is still a hidden secret, which is surprising. Over the last few years there’s been a significant investment made in BRIDG. This is all about bridging the innovation gap. It’s focused on smart sensors. So just think today about all the sensors that are used in everything from your phone to a car, and everything in between. We’re gonna help to lead the future on smart sensor research and development here.
So there’s been almost a $200 million investment made in Osceola County to establish NeoCity. So BRIDG is a building. BRIDG is a program that helps to bring this … bridge this gap. By providing a lot of the tools that the most sophisticated companies, and manufacturers around the world can use to advance their smart sensor technology. So that’s gonna be done right here in Osceola County. There’s only a couple of them in the world that could say they’re on par with this facility.
So as that facility is now opening, and the land around it is available, that we’re out marketing that property and what NeoCity is becoming. So I think over the next several years that work will come to fruition. People will begin to see how smart of an investment that was to make in the future.
Chris Cate:Very cool. Well, I want to close with four questions that I ask every guest. The first being, who is a Florida leader that you admire?
Tim Giuliani:I would say … I hope people haven’t forgot about the impact Lawton Chiles made. For me personally, he asked us as youth to launch a campaign to reduce youth tobacco use. So we launched the Truth campaign. There was a number of us that were involved. It certainly made a big impact on society. Just look at youth tobacco rates, and how they dropped through that campaign. But for some us, like me, it was a tremendous opportunity to build leadership skills. Get exposure to real issues, and dynamics from a public affairs basis. I got a jump start on my career when I was 15 or 16, so I hope people don’t forget about the impact that Lawton Chiles made.
Chris Cate:What is something in Florida that deserves more attention?
Tim Giuliani:As far as I’m concerned, and I’ve spent the last 10 years beating the drum as has many others, is to diversify our economy. To add high wage jobs, and to focus on innovation as a way to do that. I think as leaders in Florida sometimes get complacent when the economy’s good. And they don’t keep the pedal to the metal on why we should continue to build our infrastructure through our universities and colleges. But the future’s about talent. The future’s about innovation and new inventions. It’s what keeps America competitive, and as the rest of the world develops and grows.
Entire countries are coming on and going from emerging to leading in innovation fields. America’s always made its value proposition on being first, and being out in front. We’ve gotta continue to do that. As Florida’s one of the fastest growing state in America, we’ve gotta lead that forward. I mean if the population continues to grow. And keeping people and putting people in better and better jobs, with better and better wages, it will keep Florida advancing. As opposed to if we take the foot off the gas in any way when it comes to R&D or our investment in our talent pipeline, we’ll be paying for that for generations. So I think that’s the most important thing that we could stay focused on.
Chris Cate:Do you have a favorite place in Florida to visit?
Tim Giuliani:I think as many of us that grown up, lived in Florida, I could probably list you 10 places. One place I can’t wait to get back to is the Keys. I’ve gone there a few times with family and just had great times. There’s this one place particularly in Key Largo, Conch House, that did well through a hurricane. It has the best key lime pie, so I’d say that’s one of my favorite places in Florida.
Chris Cate:I’ll have to keep that in mind. The last question I have is, what is your favorite Florida sports team?
Tim Giuliani:Favorite Florida sports team for 11 months of the year is the Gators. But there’s that one month of the year when we can call the New York Mets part of the sunshine state, when they come for Spring Training. I try to get over there as much as I can. So definitely the Mets when they’re here, but other than that, it’d be the Gators.
Chris Cate:Great. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day, I know you’re very busy, to talk to us, but I really appreciate it.
Tim Giuliani:Yeah. Well, thanks for having me, and always happy to talk about Florida.
Chris Cate:Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian Podcast. If you aren’t subscribed to the podcast yet, I hope you’ll look us up and subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app. Like, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or Google Play Music. If you leave a review, that would be great too. Thanks so my team at Salter Mitchell PR for making this podcast possible.
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