Orlando, Florida, USA
ALL FIGURES QUOTED ARE IN U.S. DOLLARS UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.
BY SANDRA A. SWANSON
As with most U.S. cities, the economy of Orlando has been sluggish in 2008. The biggest economic drivers in the metropolitan area are leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services. Together, those two industries employ more than 35 percent of local residents. Walt Disney Co. alone provides jobs for about 60,000 people in the area.
The combined attendance at 10 of the biggest theme park attractions in and around Orlando was roughly 70 million last year. Located just southwest of Orlando in Lake Buena Vista, Disney's Magic Kingdom pulled in 17 million visitors in 2007.
Orlando represents a huge draw not only for tourists, but business travelers as well. The city's Orange County Convention Center is the second-largest convention facility in the United States, with 2.1 million square feet (195,000 square meters) of space.
Already an established amusement park destination, Orlando is branching out into other entertainment realms, too—namely, film, television and commercial production. Over the past 17 years, the annual production market here increased from $2.5 million to $845.5 million.
FACTS & FIGURES
Population: More than 224,000 people live in the city of Orlando, which covers more than 110 square miles (285 square kilometers). By 2010, the number of residents is expected to reach 267,000. Orlando's metropolitan area is home to 2 million people.
Language: English is the main language, but about 17 percent of the population speaks Spanish.
Currency: U.S. dollar (US$)
1US$ = €0.68
1US$ = JPY106.4
It may be known as the Sunshine State, but—like most of the United States—Florida faces an economic outlook far gloomier than its nickname might suggest. The state's unemployment rate had climbed to 6.5 percent as of August, its highest in more than 13 years. But the Orlando metro area has managed to squeak by and even post a paltry increase in jobs, mostly thanks to a healthy tourism trade. About 50 million visitors come to the city every year, many lured by a dizzying array of theme parks and entertainment options. Just consider the big names: Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld.
All those tourists mean projects—lots of projects, especially in the construction arena. The county's tourist tax levied on hotel stays, for example, is helping fund a $1.2 billion portfolio of projects aimed at revamping the city's downtown.
Fun and games are just part of Orlando's project landscape, though. The city is also out to make a name for itself in sustainability with a comprehensive plan called Green Works Orlando.
Yet those projects can't be implemented in a bubble. And even as Orlando's projects and programs continue to grow in size and complexity, project leaders must contend with the effects of a fading U.S. economy.
Orlando is faring better than many of its neighbors, but the mood here is hardly sanguine.
“The Orlando market has remained pretty flat,” says David Munoz, business development manager at the Orlando office of Turner Construction Co.
The company serves as the program manager of the new $480 million Orlando Events Center planned for downtown. Still, Mr. Munoz seems keenly aware of the shifting landscape.
“With the current market conditions and recent decline of the housing market, our available market has been challenged by the addition of new contractors and more aggressive competition,” he says.
And that economic squeeze has a direct impact on the kinds of skills companies and their project leaders need to come out on top.
“There has been a change due to the downturn in the housing and commercial markets, the cutback in government funding and the competition in the marketplace,” says David Plavcan, project manager at the Orlando office of Arcadis, a project management and engineering services firm. “The tough economic times require agility, innovation, flexibility and outstanding client satisfaction,” he says.
And that means a renewed emphasis on project implementation, governance, safety, and, of course, the financial part of the business, says Mr. Plavcan. “Junior project managers have a tendency to focus on the technical aspects needed to complete a project rather than the business implications of a project,” he says. “Being financially savvy tends to be tied with experience in the business.”
Not only are project leaders contending with a sluggish economy and tight budgets, they, like everyone else in the country, are dealing with the rising costs of goods and services as well. The price of construction materials and diesel increased by an annual rate of 10.4 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for June. That represents the heftiest year-over-year increase in that category in more two decades.
“Today, our project managers have to become smarter in their knowledge of market pricing and have the ability to adapt to different market types,” Mr. Munoz says.
The current scenario requires agility from both the organization and the project leaders on the ground.
“With ever-changing market conditions and a business model that continually drives you to diversify, our team has to consistently train in the various market realms,” Mr. Munoz says.
As in many major cities around the world, the “go green” refrain reverberates throughout Orlando. In 2007, the mayor appointed a “green team.” Drawn from a range of city departments, the group studied the environmental efforts of other cities to devise a comprehensive plan of its own. The result is Green Works Orlando, which encompasses building design, transportation, infrastructure and more.
For years, congestion and merging mayhem have been a way of life for the 300,000 drivers using the Orlando interchange of Interstate 4 and State Road 408.
“It may be one of the most unusual stretches I've seen anywhere on any interstate,” Derek Hudson, spokesman for the I-4 public information office, told the Orlando Sentinel earlier this year.
The odd configuration of the roads means eastbound and westbound drivers on the 408 find themselves funneled onto the same ramps to get to I-4—leading to much weaving and lane-switching.
But relief may be just around the bend. PCL Civil Constructors is currently working on a major interchange improvement project that includes 13 new bridges and ramps. The total project price tag is about $228 million, including design and construction engineering and inspection services.
Work on the six-phase project began in April 2006. PCL was given 900 days to complete it—along with extra incentives to keep a close eye on the calendar. If the company finishes early, it receives $25,000 for each day ahead of schedule it closes. In all, PCL's contract included $6.5 million in potential incentives, including a bonus for not affecting parking near one of the ramps.
It seems the project not only has a tight schedule, but also requires work in some tight spaces. That means avoiding nearby utilities and sometimes working just a dozen feet away from existing buildings. “Every time we put a shovel in the ground, we had to make sure there was no conflict, and if there were conflicts, we had to have them engineered and relocated so we could complete the alignment of our bridges,” Gary Dale, senior project manager at PCL, told Southeast Construction.
To complicate matters more, the new headquarters for the Orlando Utilities Commission was being built next to the interchange project. Communication between PCL and the contractor for the utilities headquarters became more than a nicety.
“They are higher and they had a big tower crane,” Mr. Dale told the publication. “If you took the tower crane and swung it, it was out over our work. They had loads of material swinging over our people, so we had to have close coordination so we had safety precautions in place.”
NO DOWNTURN DOWNTOWN
DR. PHILLIPS ORLANDO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
RENDERING COURTESY OF HOK SPORT
Even with the state's economic malaise, a $1.2 billion downtown revitalization initiative points to solid growth in Orlando. A peek across the portfolio of projects slated for downtown also reveals an increasingly complex environment.
Slated to open in 2012, the nine-acre (3.6-hectare) Dr. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center will showcase ballet, opera, orchestra and other arts events. Construction on the $425 million project is expected to take about three years.
“This project has many unique factors that create opportunities to think outside the box,” says Mark Israel, Universal Engineering Sciences, which is handling the geotechnical engineering services for the center. For one, the building includes basement levels as much as 30 feet (9.1 meters) below grade, “which is quite unusual for Florida,” says Mr. Israel.
There's a little bit of magic in one of the other downtown projects.
Construction began in late July on the $480 million Orlando Events Center, which will host conferences and concerts as well as the city's basketball team, the Magic.
At 800,000 square feet (74,322 square meters), it's about three times the size of Amway Arena, where the team currently plays. Expected to be completed in 26 months, the new facility will have up to 20,000 seats depending on the type of event.
But the project wasn't an instant slam dunk. When the city of Orlando purchased the 10-acre (4-hectare) site for $35.5 million, it overlooked one small but key stakeholder group. There was a family that owned a third of an acre in the middle of the site for 60 years and refused to sell when the city offered $1.5 million. The project was starting to look like a long shot, but after court proceedings in late 2007, the family members agreed to sell their share for $8.4 million.
One of the goals of the program is to ensure new city buildings comply with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Orlando's newest $4.3 million fire station, for example, was designed to be 14 percent more energy-efficient than a conventional building of its kind—translating to an estimated $8,800 in savings per year. And the new $40 million headquarters site for the Orlando Utilities Commission is equipped with solar panels and a rainwater recycling system aimed at helping the building earn gold-level LEED certification.
The city even plans to replace 483 traffic signals with light-emitting diodes, a $1.96 million project that's expected to pay for itself in less than four years through lower utility bills.
In a precarious market, the move to sustainability presents an opening for organizations and project managers looking to make a mark.
“We are exploring our opportunities within the green market,” says Mark Israel, president of Orlando-based Universal Engineering Sciences. “We are especially interested in the commissioning of green buildings.”
TIP» Variety isn't just the spice of life. It's also a recipe for getting ahead.
“People are realizing how much fun and interesting work is available for project managers. As such, it is getting harder and harder to be selected as the project manager for exciting programs. The best advice is to not allow yourself to become only focused on a single type of project or industry. The more varied the experience, the higher probability that someone will be successful in a project endeavor.”
–Jason Breitfeller, PMP, Breitldeas Inc.
Mr. Munoz echoes that sustainability sentiment.
“The entire green movement is one that Turner Construction has embraced from its inception. In fact, our company was one of the founding members of the U.S. Green Building Council,” he says. The company currently offers sustainability training and several Turner employees have become LEED-certified.
“The project managers have embraced this philosophy of constructing buildings,” says Mr. Munoz. “They have also noticed a change in the way architects and engineers design, thus having to quickly learn how to build ‘green’ buildings.”
The city plans to replace 483 traffic signals with light-emitting diodes, a $1.96 million project that's expected to pay for itself in less than four years through lower utility bills.
And Mr. Plavcan expects to see increased demand for project leaders who can address local sustainability issues.
“Projections indicate that the availability and supply of drinking water is, and will continue to be, a major issue in the region,” he says. “Project managers who have a strong solutions-based background will have opportunities on water-supply projects.”
Tough times or not, the push for sustainability doesn't look to be ending anytime soon.
“Florida will continue to grow, and environmental regulations will continue becoming more stringent, despite the economic downturn,” Mr. Plavcan says.
“Technology and software development have increased the speed at which we perform our design functions. At the same time, it has decreased the actual understanding of design.”
–Mark Israel, Universal Engineering Sciences
GROOMING THE FUTURE
Project leaders are also conserving another precious resource: human capital.
“The greatest challenge is finding and keeping qualified, competent staff,” says Mr. Plavcan.
Mr. Israel agrees, saying teaching project management skills to a young workforce ranks highest on his list of challenges.
Part of that training requires a refining of communications skills. “Technology and software development have increased the speed at which we perform our design functions,” he says. “At the same time, it has decreased the actual understanding of design.”
>The county's tourist tax levied on hotel stays is helping fund a $1.2 billion portfolio of projects aimed at revamping the city's downtown.
The result, he says, is a greater need for project management and technical review. And for that, teams must have effective communication, which, these days, is largely conducted through e-mail.
“This often leads to miscommunication, which again adds to project management requirements,” says Mr. Israel.
“Communication skills are also becoming even more important as we move toward virtual teams,” says Jason Breitfeller, PMP, president of BreitIdeas Inc., a project management consulting company in Viera, Florida.
JUST ADD WATER
Despite Orlando's reputation as the theme park capital of the world, there hasn't been much action within the project portfolio for the past eight years. But that dry spell ended in April when Busch Entertainment Corp. made a big splash with the grand opening of its new water park, Aquatica.
The company originally announced plans for the park in 2005, with a debut slated for 2007. The project went off schedule, but now ranks as the new kid on the block.
Covering 59 acres (24 hectares), the new park called for construction of an 80,000-square-foot (7,432-square-meter) beach, 36 waterslides and a high-speed river ride with rapids. Along with the usual theme park fare, there's the Dolphin Plunge, which required the project team to build two enclosed tube slides that run underwater through a pod of dolphins.
THE THEME IS GREEN
Busch Entertainment Corp. is adding some green to its other parks.
The company recently launched a sustainability pilot project at its three parks in Orlando. In February, two hydrogen-powered buses began shuttling employees between the company's parks and offices. The project could lead to an expanded green fleet to transport tourists between Busch-owned parks.
The company also introduced a green program aimed at taking a more environmental approach to stocking food containers and tableware at its parks. By the end of 2009, the company is scheduled to phase out polystyrene foam and petrochemical-based plastic tableware from all of its theme-park restaurants and employee lounges nationwide. They will be replaced by supplies made of biodegradable and farm-raised organic materials, such as corn and bamboo.
“These types of arrangements will stretch the project manager to learn new and innovative ways of getting people to work together,” he says.
It's not just communications skills, though. Project leaders also need to build a broad base of knowledge. “As projects get bigger and more complex, project managers need to feel comfortable spanning across many different industries,” Mr. Breitfeller says.
And they should be able to prove that expertise. More companies are emphasizing Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, he adds.
“It used to be enough if you were just good at getting things done,” Mr. Breitfeller says. “Now employers are not only looking at the skill set, but also the credentials to go along with the skills.” PM
PM NETWORK NOVEMBER 2008 WWW.PMI.ORG
NOVEMBER 2008 PM NETWORK