Is Our Local Simulation Industry at Risk?

About 1/3 of employees working in the Central Florida Research Park live in neighborhoods from Waterford Lakes to Avalon Park. Many of these individuals are employed in the modeling and simulation industry. The industry also produces about $3 billion in gross regional product. But this billion-dollar industry is being threatened by the possibility of the government approving Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) for the Central Florida area.

“BRAC is the idea being that we can [close] excess facilities and downsize,” says Waymon Armstrong, the president of ECS-Global Technologies. Simulation companies like ECS create digital worlds to simulate real-world environments and provide training to emergency responders and military personnel that would otherwise be near impossible.

Marines Using a cut suit to train for future missions in the field.

The industry employs about 12,500 people in Orlando. If we lost this industry, it’s safe to say that we can expect a significant and very direct impact in East Orlando.

BRAC was established by the government decades ago in order to save money by closing unused or unnecessary military infrastructure. During the process, military bases are closed and the members of the military are sent to other bases in the country.

Here in Orlando, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force collaborate as a cluster known as Team Orlando. Because they work together so closely, if one of the services is forced to move under BRAC, the rest will be sure to follow.

“I think it would be the beginning of the end,” says Dave Manning, the chairman of the board for The National Center of Simulation. “If one of the services leaves, I think eventually they’d all go.”

The services have significant ties to the modeling and simulation industry, which allows the military to train and educate its soldiers. If BRAC is approved and the services are forced to move, then the simulation industry may move with it.

“The response by the industry would be to move themselves to where the checkbook goes,” says Tom Baptiste, president of The National Center of Simulation.

If BRAC is approved and the services are forced to move, then the simulation industry may move with it.
But the modeling and simulation industry doesn’t just serve the military. Its roots are deeply intertwined with those of the University of Central Florida, which was the first college in the country to offer a modeling and simulation degree. UCF also created the Institute for Simulation and Training, which essentially trains the future modeling and simulation workforce.

Both the Institute and Team Orlando are located in Research Park, adjacent to the UCF campus. Manning says that if BRAC goes through, it would affect the relationship between Team Orlando and UCF, as well as the real estate, medical and transportation industries, which all rely on modeling and simulation technology. Overall, it’s estimated about 27,000 jobs would be lost along with the $5 billion that Team Orlando generates in contracts.

Soldiers preparing for a Live Virtual Constructive training exercise courtesy of Team Orlando.

So why would the hub of modeling and simulation being facing a round of BRAC? Baptiste says because the growth of Team Orlando has outgrown the available infrastructure and the services now rely on approximately 200,000 square-feet of leased office space. The high cost of rented office space (nearly $5 million annually) makes elements of Team Orlando vulnerable for realignment or movement to where there is available federally owned office space.

The next round of BRAC is slated for 2015, but Baptiste says he’s more worried about the round of BRAC in 2017. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate must agree on its approval before BRAC can begin. But once it does, there’s no stopping it. Baptiste says the Metro Orlando community is executing a strategic BRAC mitigation plan aimed at protecting, growing and enhancing the modeling and simulation industry cluster in Central Florida.

Several private groups as well as the Orange County government and UCF have all contributed financially to go on the offensive and work now to prevent the area being placed on the BRAC list. Area leaders are aware of the situation and are being proactive now in hopes of maintaining the large economic and job hub.

Congressman Lou Frey, who created the Lou Frey Institute, says that residents can get involved by writing letters to their representatives and by spreading the word so that what happened to Cape Canaveral won’t happen to Orlando.

“Hopefully someday the Cape can come back,” he says. “And we don’t want what happened [there] to happen to the simulation industry.”

By Marisa Ramiccio