|By Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 13, 2011--Walt Disney World and its related businesses in Florida generate an estimated $18.2 billion a year in economic activity and are responsible for more than one of every 50 jobs in the state, according to an impact study paid for by the giant resort.
The report, released Wednesday, found that Disney's theme-park operations in the state -- which include Disney World, Disney Cruise Line and its Disney Vacation Club time-share business -- account for 2.5 percent of Florida's cumulative gross domestic product.
"It was 40 years ago, in the fall of 1971, that we opened the gates of Walt Disney World. And we've been growing ever since," Disney World President Meg Crofton said at a Disney-organized breakfast in the Orlando Museum of Art to present the results to local government, business and civic leaders.
The eye-popping numbers stem from a report prepared by Arduin, Laffer & Moore, a Republican consulting firm whose partners include a budget director to former Gov. Jeb Bush, an economic adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, and the founder of the conservative Club for Growth political group. The firm examined data from Disney's 2009 fiscal year, which ended Oct. 3, 2009.
Disney released a two-page summary of its findings. The company would not release the full report because, it said, the report includes proprietary financial information.
The researchers found that Disney paid out nearly $1.8 billion in compensation to more than 59,000 workers in 2009. That equates to an average annual salary of approximately $30,508.
Disney said the researchers did not determine the median -- or midpoint -- salary for its workers. The average salary can be distorted by a small number of exceptionally high or low earners; Disney's senior-most executives in Florida are paid annual bonuses that in some cases have exceeded $1 million in a single year.
In addition to the wages paid, Disney purchased $2.3 billion worth of goods and services during the year, according the report, including an estimated $900 million from vendors in Florida. And third-party businesses operating on Disney property generated almost $600 million in sales, while vacationers to Disney spent another $1.7 billion at off-site businesses.
In all, that amounted to a cumulative direct economic impact of $6.3 billion. When researchers used computer models to include additional, "indirect and induced" impacts from Disney's operations, they said the total economic effect swelled to $18.2 billion and approximately 161,000 jobs.
For as big as Disney's presence has become in Florida since opening the Magic Kingdom four decades ago, the look of the company's growth has changed dramatically in recent years.
The company hasn't built a new theme park in Orlando since 1998, when it opened Disney's Animal Kingdom, Disney World's fourth park. It has in recent years focused instead on wringing more revenue from its existing assets -- capturing more of its guests' total vacation spending and luring new travelers to its parks -- and moving into new businesses, such as cruises.
Disney executives say there is still ample room to grow through those strategies.
"I can tell you, it will still be significant, the potential future impacts," Al Weiss, the president of global operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in an interview after the presentation. "We're looking at our five- and 10-year window of plans right now as we speak. And when I look at the kinds of things that you could do here, it's pretty interesting to see. Because we tap into a small percentage of the travel market -- and it's a huge market -- our goal will be to continue to deliver unique experiences."
Weiss pointed to the construction of Disney's Art of Animation Resort, a roughly 2,000-room hotel scheduled to open next year in Disney World, in which more than half the rooms will be suites with space for as many as six people. Those "family suites" are designed to appeal to larger families who want roomier accommodations but who either cannot or don't want to pay for the pricier, multi-room time-share "villas" that Disney already rents.
Disney World currently has about 26,000 hotel rooms and time-share units in its inventory. But only about 215 of those rooms are family suites, and the resort is likely losing business to competitors such as the 777-room Nickelodeon Suites Resort.
Weiss said he expects such projects will be the primary driver of Disney's growth in Orlando in coming years.
"I think probably you'll broaden the audience to your assets, as probably the biggest thing. Because the length of stay that a family comes here is only so long -- based on vacations and that typical week vacation and things like that," Weiss said. "So what you want to do is you want to probably draw a new market in and look at those kind of things."
Disney also announced Wednesday that it would distribute $290,000 in education grants among five school districts and five early-learning coalitions across Central Florida. The grants are the first in $1.2 million worth of donations Disney said it will make to various children's programs during the next 40 days.
Disney said it donated $28 million in cash and goods and services to Central Florida charities last year, down slightly from $28.5 million in 2009. It said its employees performed 228,000 hours of volunteer work for the year, compared with 251,000 hours in 2009.
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