Amid a feud with Gov. Ron DeSantis over the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, the Walt Disney Co. has delayed plans to move about 2,000 high-paying jobs from California to Orlando by more than three years.
Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler announced the expected opening date on Wednesday for the Lake Nona campus has been pushed back to 2026 to “give people more time” and to adjust the construction schedule for the new offices. A Disney representative previously told the Orlando Sentinel that the Orlando offices are expected to be operational by December 2022.
Wahler said the dispute with DeSantis was unrelated to the delay.
But the news follows tensions between Disney and DeSantis that began in March and have raged ever since over the company’s response to Florida’s don’t say gay law. DeSantis signed legislation dissolving Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and repealing Disney’s exemption under social media censorship legislation.
Some conservatives called for a boycott of the company in early April, although public outcry was short-lived.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, attributed the decision to Disney’s battle with Florida leaders over the so-called Parental Rights in Education legislation, saying, “These culture wars have an economic cost.”
The law prohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and higher grades unless such teaching is considered “age appropriate.” LGBTQ+ organizations and advocates have said the law perpetuates discrimination and raised concerns it could act as a deterrent to teachers and students.
“We have been pointing out throughout the debate on this law that attacks on LGBTQ+ people … are not just bad politics or ‘culture wars,’ but also bad for the economy,” Eskamani said.
“It might be good for DeSantis’ grass roots, but at the end of the day, top talent doesn’t want to call a state that supports those policies,” she added. “And that’s absolutely an illustration of that point that we’ve been making all along.”
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Disney is poised to receive a total of over $570 million in tax breaks by relocating more than 2,000 jobs at its Parks, Experiences and Products division to Lake Nona. The average salary for the relocation 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.
This marks the first time Disney has confirmed an updated schedule for the Lake Nona move in recent months, though since deleted job listings posted in May suggested a possible delay.
A May 3 post on the Disney Careers website advertised an Imagineering job based in Glendale, California, which was described as part of a team that would be relocating to Orlando “in late 2024.” The list looking for a lead for the new experience development team is no longer available on the website.
Another previous position seeking a technology studio manager for Imagineering was listed as a hybrid position based in Orlando and Lake Buena Vista. It had the same relocation notice.
Disney didn’t respond when asked about the job postings at the time.
The Company has the ability to invest up to $864 million to build the regional hub at Lake Nona. A Walt Disney World-affiliated company last year paid over $46 million for 60 acres near Lake Nonas Medical City in a deal that would allow Disney to build 1.8 million square feet of office space.
Current employees with jobs scheduled to be relocated to Florida were notified on an ongoing basis over the past year, with the last group being notified by November 1st. They had three months to decide whether to move, and Disney said it would support affected employees with the move.
But employees, particularly those at Imagineering, seemed opposed to the overland migration.
According to people with Imagineering contacts, including a former employee and Hill, morale was low after the transition was announced. They said Disney would lose a “large number” of affected employees, particularly experienced Imagineers with long-standing ties to California.
In December, former Imagineering President Bob Weis resigned from his leadership role to a California-based position within the division. A spokeswoman said at the time his 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 centralized in the Orlando area in recent years, with organizations such as the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions relocating their headquarters here and theme entertainment companies that work with major theme parks are increasingly announcing the opening of new offices in Central Florida.
Staff writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report. [email protected] and @katievrice on Twitter