Amid the row with Governor Ron DeSantis over the so-called ‘don’t say gay’ law, the Walt Disney Co. has delayed plans to move about 2,000 well-paying jobs to Orlando for more than three years from California.
Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said the expected opening date on Wednesday for the Lake Nona campus has been pushed back to 2026 to “give people more time” and accommodate the construction schedule for the new offices. A Disney representative previously told the Orlando Sentinel that offices were expected to open in Orlando by December 2022.
Wahler said the dispute with DeSantis had nothing to do with the delay.
But the news follows tensions between Disney and DeSantis that began in March over the company’s response to Florida’s “don’t say gay” law and have continued ever since. DeSantis signed laws to dissolve Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and reverse Disney’s exemption under social media censorship legislation.
Some conservatives called for a boycott of the company in early April, although public calls for protest were short-lived.
State Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, attributed the decision to Disney’s battle with Florida leaders over what is officially called parental rights in education legislation, saying “those culture wars have an economic cost”.
The law prohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and higher when such lessons are not considered “age appropriate.” LGBTQ+ organizations and advocates said the law perpetuates discrimination and raised concerns that it could have a chilling effect on teachers and students.
“We’ve always argued, when debating this bill, that attacking LGBTQ+ people…isn’t just bad politics or ‘culture wars,’ but it’s bad for the economy,” Eskamani said.
“It might be good for DeSantis’ base, but at the end of the day, top talent doesn’t want to call a state that supports these policies,” she added. “And so that’s absolutely an illustration of that point that we’ve been making all this time.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment..
Disney is set to receive tax relief totaling more than $570 million by moving more than 2,000 jobs in its Parks, Experiences and Products division to Lake Nona. The average salary for moving positions is $120,000.
About 90% of the affected jobs are in Imagineering, the company’s main creative design division, Disney analyst Jim Hill told the Orlando Sentinel in November.
It’s the first time Disney has confirmed an updated timeline for the Lake Nona move in recent months, though since-suppressed job postings posted in May hinted at a possible delay.
A May 3 post on the Disney Careers website advertised an Imagineering job based in Glendale, Calif., described as part of a team moving to Orlando “late 2024.” The list, looking for an executive for the new experience development team, is no longer accessible on the website.
Another former position, seeking a technology studio manager for Imagineering, was listed as a hybrid position based in Orlando and Lake Buena Vista. He had the same notice to move.
Disney did not respond when asked about job postings at the time.
The company is able to invest up to $864 million in the construction of the Lake Nona regional hub. A company associated with Walt Disney World last year paid more than $46 million for 60 acres near the medical town of Lake Nona as part of a deal that would see Disney build 1.8 million square feet of offices.
Current employees whose jobs are to be transferred to Florida were notified as they went along last year, with the final group notified Nov. 1. They had three months to decide whether to move, and Disney said it would provide relocation assistance to affected employees.
But employees, especially those at Imagineering, seemed averse to the trek across the country.
People with Imagineering contacts, including a former employee and Hill, said worker morale was low after the transition was announced. They said Disney stands to lose a “large number” of affected employees, especially veteran Imagineers with longstanding ties to California.
In December, former Imagineering President Bob Weis left his executive position for a California-based role with the division. At the time, a spokeswoman said her decision was not due to Imagineering’s move to Florida.
Theme park industry experts seem hopeful that the opening of the Lake Nona campus will provide more jobs for graduates of local theme park design and management programs and attract international talent to Orlando.
The theme entertainment industry has become centralized in the Orlando area in recent years, with organizations such as the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions moving there and theme entertainment companies moving there. are working with major theme parks increasingly announcing the opening of new offices in Central Florida.
Writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report. email@example.com and @katievrice on Twitter