In 1963, Walter Elias Disney flew over an uninhabited stretch of swampland near Orlando, Fla., and saw a vision of the future: a completely new type of theme park that would dwarf even his revolutionary Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Occupying more than 20,000 acres, this new amusement park in the center of the Sunshine State would be large enough to contain all the necessities of a family vacation— attractions, dining, shopping, leisure— and also grow and change over the years.
A side view of the Burnham Institute at Lake Nona building, which officially opened with a dedication ceremony on Oct. 8; the front portion of the building (left) houses the administrative wing, while the labs and technology centers are in the back (right)
Although Disney did not live to see the opening of his “Florida Project,” his dream definitely has been realized, for those once-empty parcels of land now contain one of the most-visited destinations in the world— a grand resort that helped transform the theme park and tourism industries.
Thirty-six years later, another successful California enterprise has come to Orlando, as this past October La Jolla’s Burnham Institute for Medical Research has opened up a brand new $85 million research facility. Burnham’s new building may not be quite as eye-catching as Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and it probably won’t bring in quite as many tourists as its illustrious neighbor; however, the expansion of this private biomedical research institute into Orlando, along with the other planned research and medical facilities that eventually will make up a biotechnology park, has just as much potential to be extraordinarily transformative to the state of Florida as Walt Disney World.
Traditionally, Florida’s economy has been supported by three primary industries: tourism, agriculture and construction. All of those, though, are sensitive to factors beyond the state’s control, such as unpredictable weather and global economic factors. And, much like any three-legged object, kicking out even one leg destabilizes the whole thing.
Back in 2003, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush began looking for a fourth leg to provide more long-term economic growth and stability and saw an opportunity in biotechnology.