Innovation Way: Moving East Orlando into the Future

In October 2004, Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine wrote, “Ultimately, innovation is about continually pushing back the boundaries of what is possible. The article was titled, “The Way to the Future.” This could easily have been a direct reference to East Orlando’s Innovation Way high-tech corridor.

On August 13, Joe Wallace, executive director of the Orange County Research & Development Authority stated, “Southeast Orlando is poised for huge economic opportunity,” during his remarks to an Urban Land Institute panel discussion on Research Park and Innovation Way. He emphasized Innovation Way is on the leading edge of regional innovation, business development and job growth. But how did we get here and what’s next for the region?

How We Got from Then to Now

An aerial shot of UCF and Research Park from the 1960s (left) with how the campus and surrounding area looks today.

This “Blueprint for the Future” was first outlined in Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty’s 2005 State of the County Address. Mayor Crotty’s intricate, but comprehensive scheme outlined his vision for a high-tech business development strategy for east Orange County that would link the northern developed portion of Orange County with the “largely undeveloped” southern portion.

In April, 2010, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved Ordinance No. 2010-05 creating a “Jobs-to-Housing Linkage Program” for Innovation Way. This ordinance clearly defined the Mayor’s transformational vision in the Board’s findings: “….creating economic catalysts, such as clean industries and technology parks…creating and retaining high-value jobs and businesses…vital to the sustainable economic growth of Orange County and Metro Orlando and diversification of the region’s economic employment base.”

Plans called for the 90,000-acre corridor to extend from the University of Central Florida (UCF) south to International Corporate Park, then west toward Lake Nona and end at Orlando International Airport. It is the heart of East Orlando’s ‘innovation economy,’ dubbed by some as the “new Silicon Valley of the East.” Central to the plan is the widening and extension of Alafaya Trail (SR 434) south, past Avalon Park to SR 528.

From the residential locations of Waterford Lakes, Avalon Park, Moss Park to Lake Nona, business and residential development are thriving. “We will see thousands of high paying jobs created by companies locating and expanding in Innovation Way and the Medical City, along with those jobs will come the need for support jobs such as retail, housing construction and others” said Carol Ann Dykes of UCF’s Technology Incubator in a 2008 report.

Of course, ‘Pushing back the boundaries of what’s possible’ means change is often a double-edged sword; as there are winners and losers, and change brings disruption. Despite getting off to a bumpy start, Innovation Way planners have modified and improved their plans and honed in on the good in order to maximize return on investment and the economic power-shot this can bring to East Orlando.

The Emphasis is on Economic and Environmental Balance

The Nemours Children’s Hospital, part of the emerging Medical City at Lake Nona, is visible traveling eastbound on S.R. 417 on August 10, 2013. The hospitals, medical research and bio-tech facilities of Medical City are one of the key Innovation Way “anchors.”

To achieve this, one of the most ingenious Innovation Way developmental framework features is the emphasis on the long-term, ‘sustainable economic opportunity and results’ advanced by Orange County’s Future Land Use Element, Goals, Objectives and Policies and the September 2007 East Central Florida Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. It incorporates best practices thinking that strives to minimize undesirable consequences that could undermine future economic health and quality of life.

The UCF Connection

The ‘culture of economic innovation’ and diversity owes much to UCF’s specializations in technology, business, finance, research and medicine. It has a core partnering role in developing everything from Innovation Way’s agri-technology to its defense and aviation/aerospace initiatives.

It continues on in the Research Park complex that has grown up around UCF and extends to Lake Nona’s Medical City, which includes the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, University of Florida Research and Academic Center, Orlando VA Medical Center, Nemour’s Children’s Hospital, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, the M.D. Anderson – Orlando Cancer Research Institute and the UCF College of Medicine.

A Glimpse of the Future

According to the Board of Orange County Commissioners Ordinance No. 2010-05, the specific “high tech/high value jobs” goal is to generate growth in high tech fields like “medicine, physics, biology, chemistry, engineering…especially those dedicated to research and development.” High value jobs include jobs in any industry, with average annual salaries that exceed 115 percent of the average wage in Orange County as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics or the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

The implications of this are enormous. According to an economic impact study conducted by the Milkin Institute and Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics, the medical college alone could generate $1.4 billion a year in economic activity and more than 6,400 jobs by year 10. The Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission estimates by year 10, the life science cluster could create 30,000 jobs with $7.6 billion in economic impact.

According to a December 2005 Innovation Way Economic Development and Environment Resource Management Study, biotechnology and life science industries feature more than 500 biotech companies, 42,000 workers and $3.6 billion in annual earnings. The photonics industry has also added about 70 companies, 20,000 workers and generated $20-50 million in annual revenue. The potential development of a Research Park#2 at International Corporate Park (ICP) will provide added opportunity.

Finally, the balance provided by this infusion of high tech/high value jobs (avg. wage above $80,000) will provide much needed balance to the lower wage employment offered by the travel, tourism and hospitality industries.

These winds of change are a tailwind for Southeast Orlando innovation and prosperity.

By Mark Bernhardt