Universal: Contributions to the region warrant more attention
We recently announced Epic Universe, our company’s newest theme park destination and single-biggest-ever investment in Florida. We thought it was great news for our company, our team members and our community.
■ We are creating 14,000 new jobs. The entry-level wage will be at least $15 an hour, or more than $30,000 a year for full-time team members. That’s just entry level. We will also be hiring for thousands of professional, technical, culinary and other specialized positions.
■ Our current $302 million annual state and local tax bill will nearly double once Epic Universe opens. This means about $600 million each year — money that stays in our community and our state and helps pay for everything from roads to education to fire and police services.
■ A UCF economics professor helped us determine our combined direct and indirect economic benefit to the community since we opened in 1990 is about $73 billion. He found construction of our new park alone would contribute an additional $11.5 billion. This is money that stays in Florida and goes to businesses, residents and the community.
■ Our team members volunteered more than 40,000 hours with community groups last year. We, our team members and our partners donated more than $16 million in cash or in-kind donations last year. This is only going to increase as we grow.
■ By the way, this is our community, too. Our more than 25,000 team members and their families live here, pay their taxes, use local businesses, send their children to school — and are as invested in this community as anyone else.
■ We announced a partnership with Orange County to build a Kirkman Road extension. The county has been looking for a partner to co-fund this project for more than 20 years. And while we could have built a smaller, private, much less expensive road that would have done what we need, we decided to become that partner. Now, we have a road that will benefit not just us, but the entire region. The county will pay no more than $125 million and we will pay the rest (currently $165 million). And — unlike what some people would have you believe — the county’s portion will not result in a new tax on homeowners. It will come primarily from an existing International Drive Community Redevelopment Area fund dedicated to transportation improvements.
So how much of all this are you hearing about?
If you rely on media coverage, you may not be getting all the facts. Forces from outside our community are using this to serve their own agenda. And the media are giving them the platform to do so.
We are always interested in what our neighbors have to say and we have long worked to build close relationships with the communities around us. We’re holding meetings with residents from Tangelo Park and Williamsburg about Epic Universe right now.
But many of the opinions you are hearing come from local representatives of a national labor union based in New York. One of our most consistent critics — who has been quoted in this newspaper and on television — sits on the union’s local executive board. We have also watched organizers coach people on what to say in community meetings.
Why is a union, whose members are predominantly Walt Disney World employees, organizing against us? We’d guess it has to do with their own agenda, which probably involves growing its dues-paying membership base.
By the way, do we have an agenda? Sure. We want to build an amazing theme park destination that benefits our company, our team members, our community and our guests.
We have long worked to make sure everything we do is good for our team members and our community. Don’t just take our word. Ask any of the organizations we partner with in town.
All we’re asking of you is this: as you follow coverage of Epic Universe or watch elected officials make decisions about our project, recall the facts I’ve shared. Think about why the others are trying so hard to be heard. And then decide for yourself.