Lake Nona has fought off an ailing economy, general skepticism and heated marketplace challenges to produce a medical city and economic development hot spot.
Penciled in at 7,000 acres roughly a decade ago and encompassing a “medical city” along with housing, retail and commercial development, Lake Nona was touted as a game changer long before that phrase became popular. Others questioned its viability, believing reality wouldn’t match expectations – particularly given economic uncertainties (i.e., the Great Recession) and uber competition (the national site selection landscape).
Today Lake Nona extends and rises, serving as a role model for an ambitious vision coming to life. However, the work isn’t done. And all, of course, hasn’t gone as planned. Yet, under the leadership of James “Jim” Zboril there is significant progress and, more notably, continued promise.
Zboril, president of Tavistock Development Co., shares his development views of the national scene, the state of Florida and a swath of land larger than Manhattan.
FORWARD FLORIDA: First, from a statewide perspective looking out to the nation and world, is there a spirit of economic
development cooperation in Florida?
JAMES ZBORIL: Without question. When we look at points of differentiation within the state of Florida, and especially in Orlando, cooperation or, rather, collaboration is a key driver for attracting new business. At Lake Nona, we take that spirit one step further, as evidenced by the recent recruitment of the USTA [U.S. Tennis Association] to build the ‘new home of American tennis’ at Lake Nona. We have helped drive a powerful, winning combination of private and public partnerships with the City of Orlando, teaming up with Orange County, the University of Central Florida, Visit Florida and other public and private entities. This kind of regional cooperation does not exist elsewhere.
FF: Again from a national lens,and with an eye toward attracting new employers to the state, how is the state working to separate itself from others – and specifically when it comes to health care?
JZ: Everybody already knows that Florida is just one of the best places to live and play – from year-round sunshine and world-class attractions to nearby beaches and lakes, and the diversity of neighborhoods and housing options. Not to mention the tax benefits. I think what is less known is the entrepreneurial spirit and talent pool apparent within our biotech and health-care industries, which continue to thrive and expand through unique partnerships that you just don’t find in other parts of the country, or even the world.
Florida has one of the most sophisticated health-care systems in the country, a growing life-sciences sector, the second largest medical device manufacturing industry and a massive B2B pharmaceutical distribution sector. The business is already here, and it’s growing. I’m excited that the regional branding and marketing efforts will soon launch to promote some of these other great aspects of our area.
FF: Speaking of clusters, do they help attract other related entities?
JZ: Absolutely. There are tremendous opportunities that become really apparent in a cluster environment. We have doctors that are drawn to the hospitals not just because of the work that they can accomplish in that facility, but also because of the research they will be able to do at Sanford-Burnham or the universities, or the ability to teach at the universities, all of which are within walking distance. Some of these researchers later pursue entrepreneurial opportunities with startups, attracting venture capital. All of these employees need places to live, eat and shop, so naturally neighborhoods and retail centers also build up around the cluster. And when related businesses see the success and opportunity within such an innovative environment, they too want to locate their business within the community, and that’s when the true collaboration starts to happen. Hospitals attract outpatient services, which include wellness facilities that marry nicely with training and sports complexes, which attracts manufacturing and media. Clustering has a powerful effect.
FF: Now looking specifically at Lake Nona, when you promote Metro Orlando, what are you selling first?
JZ: Quality of life and workforce. Southeast Orlando is the fastest-growing region of Metro Orlando. Our newest neighborhood, Laureate Park, is the top-selling community in the area and among the best in the country. Lake Nona is a great place to live and work, with a world-class airport [Orlando International] and an amazing group of community leaders who want quality growth in harmony with the environment. We have a young, diverse and educated workforce with an entrepreneurial attitude and a true spirit of partnership that you just don’t find in other parts of the country or even the world. It’s a powerful force.
FF: When you promote Lake Nona and Medical City, what are you selling?
JZ: We’re selling the opportunity to be a part of something new, something special, something larger than any single person or building. It’s really the collaborative opportunities and ability to break silos and institutional inertia that is so interesting. Our Medical City partners have been able to attract some of the very best because of our ‘livability’ factors, but also because of the power of the cluster we’ve created here. These top clinicians and scientists understand, better than anyone, the power of cross-pollinating ideas, and they thrive in an environment that’s set up to naturally enhance these interactions. That’s because we’ve started from scratch, given them a blue sky of options, and built one of the world’s best technology backbones. We’ve created a unique campus, with leading universities as neighbors, three hospitals and a prominent research institute. You won’t find this anywhere else.
Equally important, we’re selling the power of Tavistock Group and our team’s ability to deliver. It’s always great to have dreams, but one must have the financial capabilities to deliver on those dreams. Our founder and chairman, Joe Lewis, is our not-so-secret weapon. He gives us the ability to think big and realize these dreams through his unwavering commitment to the vision, his guidance and perfect balance between patience and persistence. We think having a private company leading the charge with strong public sector support is an unmatched team.
FF: How important is the proximity to Orlando International Airport?
JZ: Hugely important. We’re less than 10 minutes from a world-class airport, which provides direct access to multiple metropolitan areas in the U.S. and the world. This is key for both our employment base and our residents, and will be even more important in the future as we see an increase in activity with the USTA and our emerging office park. We’re seeing some tight occupancies for large office users in the region and a fair amount of obsolescence. As regional commute times continue to increase, we believe that the airport will be one of the keys to our differentiated offering.
FF: Agree or disagree that the business of site selection/corporate relocation and growing your brand is difficult/tricky business?
JZ: There are many things to consider with site selection and corporate relocations, no doubt about it. We’ve seen a marked increase in interest from out-of-state companies this year, many of which have been represented by some of the best site selection firms around the globe. After years of building new roads, schools, parks and housing from entry level to executive, we’re starting to be on the radar screen. We need to do more to get our story out there. Lake Nona has so much to offer, from lifestyle and location to transportation and education, an educated workforce and world-class health care. I’m proud to humbly represent this great community and our region, and think that the companies we’ve been successful in recruiting would hopefully say that the decision was a good one.