Oct 02 2013 by InsightMG

The US military organizations in Orlando (Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force) are at the core of a Simulation and Training industry that contributes over $4.8 billion to Florida’s Gross State product.  Close to 30,000 high tech jobs, with salaries averaging $70,000 per year, directly support the industry.  When combined with indirect and induced jobs, the industry employs over 60,000. The military presence is critical if Orlando is to maintain and grow this industry.  In the President’s 2012 budget, the administration requested two rounds of base realignment and closure (BRAC).  Is Central Florida at risk?  What can be done to protect this vital industry?
How Central Florida put the “Team” in Team Orlando.
Some Central Floridians believe our uniformed military services left the area when the Orlando Training Center closed its doors during the Base Realignment and Closure in the mid-90s.  The story of Orlando’s military simulation and training components – what they do, how they do it, and how it impacts Central Florida – is fascinating, but not frequently told.
It all began with a partnership that was documented by the signatures of the Secretaries of the U.S. Army and Navy on March 20, 1950.  By direction, the services were to collaborate in the area of training and training devices.
At that time, their offices were located in Long Island, New York, but in 1965 they moved to Central Florida, and for almost 50 years, they have called Orlando home.  They first located on the Naval Training Center, then, in the mid-80s made the move to the new Central Florida Research Park where State and local leaders envisioned a high tech growth sector and set the conditions for success. 
As the other military services joined the Army and Navy, and UCF established the Institute for Simulation and Training, they soon realized the government, academia and industry partnership was headed for greatness.  As a team, they encouraged collaboration, teamwork and leveraging technologies and programs.  They became Team Orlando.  The supporting industry base began to flourish too.
The 1970s and 80s brought innovations in military training.  First the invention of laser weapons training provided soldiers with immediate feedback when firing their weapons during training, and more accurate scoring.  The 80s provided novel ways to train teams; and the 90s delivered large scale operations with tanks, planes and large scale military exercises and the use of personal computers and video games as a new ways to train.  Central Florida’s modeling and simulation industry had, indeed, achieved world recognition.  In 2007, the U.S. Congress declared modeling and simulation a critical technology.
By using simulation, the military had better training which was less expensive and environmentally sound.  Team Orlando became known as the Center of Excellence for Modeling and Simulation.  And, most importantly, the training devices and simulations from Central Florida were and continue to be directly responsible for training the men and women of our military, and through that training, contribute to the safe return of deployed troops.
More than just Military Simulation and Training – Important Discoveries – Spin Offs
But military training was just the beginning.  The spin-offs to complementary industries is ever- increasing and include education; transportation; homeland security; digital media, entertainment and serious games with strong connections to Orlando’s new Creative Village; and medical and healthcare training with ties to Lake Nona’s Medical City.  Today, through a UCF Institute for Simulation and Training digital puppetry program, new teachers can train in a virtual classroom and interact with role players portrayed in the simulation as students with challenges that the new teacher may face – before they enter a real classroom.  Surgeons can practice before they make the first cut; emergency managers can practice response scenarios through simulation to ensure they are prepared for the real crisis.  All this because almost 50 years ago the Army and Navy training commands made their way from New York to Orlando and set in motion a multi-billion dollar industry.

Emergency Preparedness virtual training for Arlington Station in Virginia was developed by Orlando's Engineering & Computer Simulations. Simulations such as these had their start in the military simulation industry.

Why the industry is threatened?

Yes, the simulation industry has been good for Central Florida.  But, what if tomorrow it were gone?  The 2012 President’s Budget calls for two rounds of Base Realignment and Closure.  Because of the growth, the military complex that houses the employees in Central Florida Research Park is bursting at the seams.  The space required by the military long ago exceeded the office space in the complex.  Throughout the years the State of Florida has done an excellent job in providing funds to house the overflow and continue to promote the military, academia and industry partnership through shared space with the University.
Because of the simulation industry’s continued growth, available infrastructure and the services now rely on approximately 200,000 sq. ft. of leased office space.  Not only is this a financial burden with rented office space costing nearly $5 million annually, the very fact that the military is in leased space makes elements of Team Orlando vulnerable for realignment or movement to available federally owned office space, and Florida stands to lose the dynamic, high tech growth industry we call the Modeling and Simulation capital of the world.
For now, the Metro Orlando community is executing a strategic BRAC mitigation plan aimed at protecting, growing and enhancing the modeling and simulation industry cluster in Central Florida.  We can only imagine what the future holds as new technologies and simulation solutions evolve.  As a community, we can use the same magic of teamwork and partnership, that made Central Florida’s simulation industry great, to ensure it remains home to the industry.
By Mary Trier