First the drought, then the brush fires, now this: The softening economy has hit mid-Florida, as employees in all ranks of the leisure industry have been shown the door in recent weeks.
On June 22, Universal Studios Florida announced that it was firing 20 workers, which the company said was part of a restructuring of its marketing division. Earlier in the year, the Walt Disney Company, announced that was cutting approximately 3% of its workforce around the world -- about 4,000 jobs. Walt Disney World, for its part, instituted a hiring freeze and has been attempting to reach its target by a voluntary program first, but in early June it was reported that about 1,000 jobs would still have to be eliminated worldwide by the end of July. The company’s theme park and animation divisions are expected to be the hardest hit.
The cutbacks at Orlando’s two biggest themed employers have also filtered down to the smaller themed shops, many of which depend on the big companies for their livelihood. Sources say that ShowQuest Studios, a small firm specializing the design and production of theme park rides, has shut its doors. Calls to the company found the phone lines disconnected.
ITEC Productions, a relatively major player in the themed market, has reportedly let go or lost nearly two dozen people, ranging from shop employees to project managers to several designers, including Jon Langrel, staff LD who worked on the company’s most recent high-profile project, The Holy Land Experience. But as ITEC marketing manager Deana O’Malley points out, such moves are a common occurrence in the themed entertainment business. “[It’s] a project based industry, and we tend to use a lot more independent contractors than full-time employees anyway. That’s just the nature of how it works.” She adds that ITEC hopes to use Langrel as an independent contractor in future projects.
O’Malley also notes that the layoffs at Disney and Universal can actually have a positive impact on smaller companies like ITEC in that they will need to outsource more work rather than have it done in house.
The Holy Land Experience is being plagued by another kind of woe—not locusts, but the taxman. The Orlando Sentinel recently reported that the religious theme park must pay property taxes just like any other tourist attraction, despite its biblical theme and the fact that it is owned by a religious organization. That ruling, by the Orange County Property Appraiser's Office, means that Zion’s Hope, the ministry that funded the park, could face annual tax bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The news isn’t all bad: SeaWorld Orlando recently announced it would be expanding some of the attractions at its pricey new Discovery Cove, the park that allows customers to interact with dolphins and other marine life.