Disney’s $40B Economic Impact in Florida Amidst Court Battle with DeSantis

Disney’s economic impact in Florida has been revealed in a recent study conducted by Oxford Economics and commissioned by the entertainment giant itself. The study, covering fiscal year 2022, showcases Disney’s substantial economic contribution to the state, amounting to an impressive $40.3 billion. This revelation comes at a time when Disney is engaged in a battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his appointees over their recent takeover of the district governing Disney’s sprawling theme park resort in central Florida.

According to the study, Disney’s presence in Florida has resulted in the creation of 263,000 jobs, which is more than three times the actual workforce at Walt Disney World. The company’s economic impact extends beyond direct employment and spending, as it also encompasses indirect influences such as the supply chain and employees’ spending. This comprehensive assessment highlights the significant role Disney plays in supporting the local economy.

Within the state of Florida, Disney employs a staggering 82,000 workers. These employees are not limited to Disney World outside of Orlando, but also include those working for Disney Cruise Line in Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, as well as a resort in Vero Beach. In fact, in central Florida alone, Disney directly accounts for 1 in 8 jobs. Furthermore, for every direct job created by Disney, an additional 1.7 jobs are supported throughout the state, as revealed by Oxford Economics.

It is important to note that the study’s time period predates the recent takeover of Disney World’s governing district by Governor DeSantis and his appointees. This move was triggered by Disney’s public opposition to a state law prohibiting classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a law championed by DeSantis, who has his sights set on the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

Despite the ongoing dispute, Disney remains committed to investing an additional $17 billion in central Florida over the next decade, potentially creating an additional 13,000 jobs. However, the company has demonstrated a willingness to reduce its investments in the Sunshine State. Earlier this year, Disney abandoned plans to relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in areas such as digital technology, finance, and product development, a move that would have entailed an estimated $1 billion investment.

Disney World, located on a vast 25,000-acre property, already boasts four theme parks, over 25 hotels, two water parks, and a bustling shopping and dining district. Nevertheless, the company finds itself entangled in legal battles with Governor DeSantis and his appointees in both federal and state courts. The conflict centers around the takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which has now been renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. This district, originally established in 1967 by the Florida Legislature to handle municipal services, was previously controlled by Disney supporters until earlier this year.

Before the change in district control, Disney allies on the board had signed agreements with Disney granting the company control over design and construction at Disney World. However, the new DeSantis appointees argue that these “eleventh-hour deals” have undermined their authority, prompting the district to file a lawsuit seeking to void the contracts. In response, Disney has filed counterclaims, requesting that the state court validate and enforce the agreements.

In addition to the legal disputes, Disney has also filed a lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee against Governor DeSantis, a state agency, and the DeSantis appointees on the district’s board. The company alleges that its free speech rights were violated when it was targeted by the governor and Republican lawmakers for expressing opposition to the law colloquially known as “Don’t Say Gay.”

In a recent earnings report, Disney acknowledged that while its theme parks worldwide experienced a year-to-year increase in operating income, the Florida theme park resort saw a decrease due to the closure of its immersive Star Wars-themed two-night experience and a decline in visitor spending resulting from lower hotel rates.

As the legal battles continue to unfold, Disney’s economic impact in Florida remains an undeniable force, supporting thousands of jobs and contributing billions to the state’s economy. The outcome of these disputes will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for both Disney and the state’s tourism industry.


Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

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