Feb. 15--Universal Orlando plans to add nearly 3,500 jobs this year as it prepares for an expected surge of business from the opening of Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley, Gov. Rick Scott and resort officials announced Friday.
Scott, who appeared with Universal executives and local elected officials at the entrance to Diagon Alley inside Universal Studios Florida, also used the occasion to reveal that Florida drew an estimated 94.7 million visitors last year, up 3.5 percent from 2012 and a new state record. It was Florida's third consecutive year of record visitation.
The number of jobs in Florida directly tied to tourism -- from housekeepers and lifeguards to cab drivers and costumed characters -- swelled to nearly 1.1 million, a 2.9 percent increase. That also was a record.
"Florida is on a roll," said the Republican governor, who is up for re-election this year.
The state's tourism industry should get another boost in coming months from Universal's Diagon Alley, which is expected to open by this summer.
Universal said the 3,500 jobs it plans to add this year will include full-time, part-time and seasonal positions, though it did not provide a breakdown.
"This is great news ... 3,500 families now get to live their dream," Scott said.
Diagon Alley will be the second land at Universal Orlando based on the Harry Potter book and film franchise, following the enormously successful Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park. Like the original project, Diagon Alley will include an assortment of attractions, shops and restaurants, anchored by a marquee ride dubbed Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.
Not all of Universal's new jobs are the result of the Potter expansion. The 3,500 positions include more than 600 previously announced at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which will become Universal's fourth on-site hotel when it opens this spring, and an unspecified number tied to the expansion of Universal's CityWalk retail district.
Universal Orlando President Bill Davis credited the rapid expansion to a "partnership" between the tourism industry and Scott's administration, which recently recommended increasing public spending on travel advertising to $100 million a year.
"The governor and the state are certainly helping tourism by increasing the budget. We think we're helping tourism by investing," he said.
Orlando's No. 2 theme-park resort currently employs about 17,300 workers. That's up 33 percent since the original Wizarding World debuted.
Walt Disney World, the region's biggest resort, has nearly 70,000 workers.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat who was among the elected officials who appeared on stage with Scott, praised Universal for its expansion and said the impact would ripple beyond front-line hourly jobs and into professions ranging from construction to engineering and digital media.
"The economic impact in jobs that Universal is creating goes far beyond the hospitality industry," Dyer said.
Visit Florida, the publicly subsidized state marketing agency, said the 2013 travel records came on the strength of several key markets.
For example, the agency said overseas travel to Florida jumped 11.1 percent to 11.5 million. The number of visitors from Canada, the state's largest international feeder country, rose 4.1 percent to 3.7 million. Both were record highs.
The agency said domestic travel increased 2.5 percent.