Orlando Sentinel begins series on the working poor in a tourist economy

Posted Friday, December 6, 2019 3:48 PM | Contributed by BrettV

From the article:

The tourism industry employs nearly 280,000 workers in the four counties surrounding Orlando, accounting for the largest portion of the entire local labor force, more than 20%. Disney employs more than a quarter of those workers or about 77,000 people.

So many tourism jobs in one place, many of them low-wage, come with a consequence: Paychecks across all industries in Central Florida rank dead last among the top 50 metropolitan areas in the United States.

Read part 1 of the series from The Orlando Sentinel.

Friday, December 6, 2019 3:52 PM
Jeff's avatar

I look forward to the piece about affordable housing, because I can tell you that all of the housing north and west of Disney is not affordable. Universal might be worse, because the Dr. Phillips area is totally over-priced.

It's a hard problem, but they almost approach the concern that I have near the end: There is a subset of people who believe that a Disney job is the best job ever, even though there's no real potential to ever really rise above it. I was content to have a job like that right after college (which even more frustratingly a lot of current grads feel they're above), but I never looked at it as a long-term arrangement.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Twitter - Video

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Friday, December 6, 2019 4:53 PM

As someone who has rented in Central Florida since 2008, I can tell you that the affordable housing crisis in Orlando is real. I’m fortunate to have an excellent landlord east of downtown, but the amount of ‘luxury’ apartment complexes popping up off of I4 between Celebration and Universal with hilariously high rent is out of control. Meanwhile, in 2009 in the midst of the recession I had an almost new one bedroom a mile or so outside of WDW property for $580/month.

On the flip side, the story about the woman who lives south of Lakeland that makes the trek to WDW could probably find a similar gig with similar pay significantly closer to home. The decision to make things more difficult for the sole purpose of working for WDW is why the pay doesn’t have to increase.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019 9:57 AM

I have never worked for any type of park. I nearly took a job at Cedar Point back when I was 19 and it's one thing I wish I had done. It seems, for the most part, this is a young person's job. Not a chance I could stay on my feet now for more than five hours working without my low back starting up on me. It appears most of the positions at a park you are working and working hard most of the time. It's hard to think they couldn't give all employees a little more $ but I really don't know the business side or numbers behind their decisions. I just know a simple meal costs at or over what the person serving it to me gets paid in an hour.

Last edited by Winston, Saturday, December 7, 2019 9:57 AM
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Saturday, December 7, 2019 11:30 AM

What it comes down to is supply and demand. There is usually a waiting list to get hired by Disney for an entry level attractions host or food service job or equivalent. They don't need to pay more because they already don't have positions for everyone that applies.

I also think by 2021 all new hires will be making $15/hour at both WDW and Universal Orlando, which is higher than what you would make for a similar position not at one of the theme parks. You have greeters that have a job description of waving to guests with the big Mickey hands, blowing bubbles, and playing hula hoops and other games with kids while you wait for the parade. It's something that gives Disney that extra touch and those folks deserve good working conditions, but I also can't argue that it's a long term career where you should be paid a $50k a year salary simply because Disney can "afford it" and because you can't imagine doing anything else other than working for Disney.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019 12:05 PM

I've recommended this before, but for those with an interest in the intersection of urban planning, policy, and the theme park industry Fogelsong's "Married to the Mouse" is excellent.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/980930.Married_to_the_Mouse


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Saturday, December 7, 2019 1:29 PM

Seems kind of like a hack job (lite) going after Disney here... but not really.

The issue of lack of affordability is really the lack of developed density immediately around the attractions. Go south and east vs. north and west. A modern lazy zoning issue that doesn't address the requirements of the industry as they cut down Orange grove along the west side of 417. (Though Windermere and real Winter Garden were there first)

Albiet that trend started by World when they created their buffer zone.

I'll have to check out Fogelson. I'm currently in the middle of the 1999 book by Frantz & Collins on the original Celebration build-out and it is solidly fascinating.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019 2:01 PM
Jeff's avatar

The areas north and west are Horizon West, which has density requirements in terms of zoning. It's where I live. The density is what it should be, but since it's all new, it's not cheap. The regional rent bubble is a problem that I imagine has to pop eventually. But even the town houses are starting at $200k. There is some cheap housing in Osceola, and some on the far side of Universal, but a lot of it isn't very nice.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Twitter - Video

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Sunday, December 8, 2019 1:51 PM

Jeff said:

The density is what it should be

Is it though? Wouldn't bulking up density in the new build-out the past 15 years along the 429 somewhat of alleviated this issue? At least in the short term... Until good place making drives valuation up.... Cause the desirability of proximity to the attractions, even without the good place making aspect seems to be fulfilling that.

It's a weird and unique economy condition. WDW is so damn massive of an area. Add in the World buffer. Now the first ring of new development outside the buffer (which outside 192 amazingly didn't even get that built out until the past 20 years) is most desirable and pushes out the service industry. Farther. The way everything was designed, it's pretty easy to wind up 30 miles away. Hell, I commuted from Celebration and it was still 10 miles each direction.

It's too late now, but that new developement needed new towns, centers with smaller, denser and therefore more economical units catered toward the service economy (Like Celebration, but not so high end). Responsible city planning. Instead, of all single family housing tract and shopping centers. Even the newer apartments complexes, the units are high end of market. The apartments are massive and therefore too expensive.

The luxury of proximity to the attractions pushes that high end market. But those attractions create and need the low end service industry. It's a conundrum... I'm less familiar with Vegas. The other extreme scaled example. Does having denser of development surrounding the strip (since it's in a more urban area) provide more available stock? Or it is just as bad out there and throw my whole argument away?

Celebration almost got the urbanism part right. But with the direct Disney marketing it became immediately expensinve (although unwarrantedly based on the actual construction quality). PLUS any actual required affordable housing was dealt out of the town off-site! Not that it would of provided a solution in itself... but maybe 20 new Celebrations would have.

Add atop the bad urbanism, outdated American Dream idealism. The middle class choosing quarter acre zoning, front lawn freestanding homes they can afford 30 to 50 miles away in Davenport to Lakeland vs. trading economizing scale for the proximity (which actually doesn't fully exist anyway, but for arguement sake...). It exacerbates the problem. Plus like you often imply, unwilling to give up job at Disney for something less inconvenient.

I don't know... maybe it's time to bring back the company town model. Walt kinda, knew he needed his version of EPCOT. Somewhere for people to go. That looked pretty dense.

Last edited by Kstr 737, Sunday, December 8, 2019 2:21 PM
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Sunday, December 8, 2019 1:51 PM

The biggest problem at Disney...and I imagine at other park companies, isn't the size of the entry level work force or even the pay level of the executive (and much, much smaller) work force. It is the relative flattening of the company whereby there are not many mid level management positions, particularly when compared to the early years of the company. Those mid level positions paid modestly well, provided a sense that there was opportunity, and gave cast members a place to cut their teeth and learn to be good managers before climbing further up the ladder.

I've told this story before...but when I was on the college program we got to spend the good part of a day with an executive. I remember asking her, specifically, about opportunities in the company for advancement...and if my college degree would be of any benefit. She flatly told us...no. At the time I was pissed off but now I look back on it and appreciate the honesty. Had she not been that blunt I might still be there and be handcuffed.

The same happens at other parks. At Cedar Point we had lots of folks who were hanging on from season to season in hopes of cracking into a full time job. Again, when I look back I think it is safe to say that we not only took those people for granted...but we probably took advantage of their naivete.

I don't know if the $15 wage is going to help Orlando attractions in the long term as their is a movement to make that $15 dollar wage a state wide minimum.

The housing problem, as bad as it is in Orlando, is even worse in South Florida. And, we rely heavily on the service industry too. Rents here are ridiculous.

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Sunday, December 8, 2019 3:11 PM

Kstr 737 said:

Celebration almost got the urbanism part right. But with the direct Disney marketing it became immediately expensinve (although unwarrantedly based on the actual construction quality).

This.

wahoo skipper said:

I've told this story before...but when I was on the college program we got to spend the good part of a day with an executive. I remember asking her, specifically, about opportunities in the company for advancement...and if my college degree would be of any benefit. She flatly told us...no. At the time I was pissed off but now I look back on it and appreciate the honesty. Had she not been that blunt I might still be there and be handcuffed.



Also this. WDW was a fantastic after college job. After 22 years of non stop school that ended in the 2008 recession, I had a blast driving a safari truck for two and a half years. Then I advanced to coordinator and then started on the leadership track with two TAs. When I realized that was no way to live and I was better than that I took it upon myself to make a better life and for the last five and a half years I have. I could have stayed and been a low level manager for decades, but I wouldn't have been happy or fulfilled by that. I have plenty of friends that do it. A few truly love it and I'm happy they have found their passion. The rest complain about the crappy pay and even worse hours but then do nothing about it.

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Sunday, December 8, 2019 4:11 PM
Jeff's avatar

Kstr 737 said:
Now the first ring of new development outside the buffer (which outside 192 amazingly didn't even get that built out until the past 20 years) is most desirable and pushes out the service industry. Farther. The way everything was designed, it's pretty easy to wind up 30 miles away. Hell, I commuted from Celebration and it was still 10 miles each direction... Even the newer apartments complexes, the units are high end of market. The apartments are massive and therefore too expensive.

Most of what you're saying is true, but I don't think you can really pin that on the planning instead of the market. Horizon West was designated over two decades ago, and it didn't blow up at first. During the recession the building almost completely stopped. There isn't any incentive for developers to build affordable housing, and the zoning restrictions didn't change that.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Twitter - Video

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Sunday, February 9, 2020 9:12 AM

I just finished the recommended Richard Foglesong’s Married to the Mouse. I’ll throw down a mini-review in this previous referenced discussion:

Married to the Mouse focused mostly on case studies of the Disney-Orange County relationship from the 1980’s and 1990’s likely because that is what the author had accessed to. A deep dive on the ultimately failed Mag-Lev train project and Orange County building Osceola’s interchange. Both tales I heard a lot of reference to in my time in O-town. Big mythology around town. It was cool to read the stories fully time lined out. The controversies and information regarding the private security force was new to me.

On affordable housing, the book spoke of the off-siting and cheapening out of the requirements in the initial Celebration build-out (as discussed in the Franz/Collins book) as well as a case example of Disney sucking dry a 1986 regional bond release for hotel improvements that should of gone to more admirable county affordable housing. (A couple examples on the path of how we got to Orlando’s current crisis)

A couple other interesting things I learned:

  • That Harris Rosen, of Orlando hotelier fame, had his origins with Disney.
  • That Williamsburg neighborhood was developed by William Levitt of early tract housing suburb Levittown Long Island fame. (I’ve kept my eye on this area. Some decent mid-century vernacular, central tourism location, roller coaster views, soon to be epic access…)
  • A nice postscript to Franz/Collins’ Celebration USA book on the Celebration Regional High School construction controversy. After the former really develed in the start-up issues surrounding the avant-garde K-12 Celebration School, I wondered how it came to its current configuration. Foglesong fills in the gap.

I found Franz/Collin’s book a more entertaining and interesting read, but enjoyed Married to the Mouse. I would of like to heard more depth about the initial negotiations and backroom hashing out of the 1967 Reedy Creek charter (a la Robert Caro’s the Power Broker) but guessing that information is lost to the sands on time.

Now I gotta go back and read the other parts of this Sentinel article.

Last edited by Kstr 737, Sunday, February 9, 2020 9:13 AM
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Monday, February 10, 2020 12:24 PM

I'd love to read the article, but Orlando Sentinel is still blocked in Europe.


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