Universal: Con­tri­bu­tions to the re­gion war­rant more at­ten­tion

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By John Sprouls

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.

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