Local Projects Bring Booming Economy
By Patrick Peterson
While everyone believes tourism is the biggest part of Central Florida’s economy, a new sector has claimed a big part of the future.
Health care construction projects are widespread and are expected to grow in Central Florida. Dozens of medical centers, from major hospitals to small doctor’s offices, are going up, and the trend is likely to grow even faster in the next several decades.
With 59,000 medical jobs, the health care industry has a workforce 80 percent as large as Disney. If pharmaceutical jobs are included, the total rises to more than 4,300 companies employing 86,000 people – including research, health care delivery, specialty pharmaceuticals, medical simulation and more.
Generating $5 billion a year, medical industries strengthen the economy because they pay well and offer employees room for advancement.
“On average, these wages are higher. There’s a range of opportunities from neurosurgeons to custodians in these hospital facilities,” said Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida.
With giant projects, such as Medical City, Florida Hospital and Orlando Health, the economic improvements brought about by the medical industry have come faster than expected. “Normally, diversifying an economy and strengthening its sectors occurs over decades, rather than over years,” Snaith said. “The speedy growth of the medical industry is healthy for the region’s economy. There are no real signs of overheating. Housing has been on a pretty good run, but if you look at underemployment and job creation, we still have a way to go to get back to where we were (before the) financial crisis.”
A Wealth of Projects
A diverse list of projects has appeared in local media reports. Despite a two-year delay, the Orlando VA Medical Center is a $665 million facility in Lake Nona on a 65-acre campus. Florida Hospital will add a $60 million, 80-bed addition to the 83-bed facility in Kissimmee. This comes in addition to massive expansion in Orlando. Poinciana Medical Center will grow toward its four-story final size, which will add $49 million to its $65 million price tag.
All this means jobs on top of jobs. Nemours has about 1,000 health care workers. Adventist Health, the Florida Hospital system, has about 25,000 employees and Orlando Health has nearly 15,000 workers.
“The boom in health care construction foreshadows a new era in prosperity that will accompany tourism growth, which is expected to double in the next 30 years,” said Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. “When you see people moving into a certain sector, that means there are a lot of things getting ready to happen in that sector.”
Central Florida also has an able workforce, despite the misconception that the population of the state is aging. “We’re actually younger than the national average,” Weddle said. “There are pockets of retirees, but a third of our people are under the age of 44.”
The SunRail commuter railroad line from Kissimmee to Sanford will encourage the construction of health care facilities along its length. The health care industry added 27,000 jobs in the last 10 years and Weddle believes SunRail will be one factor that helps continue the growth, which could double in the next 30 years.
“It allows the hospitals to build concentrated developments,” Weddle said. “Health care workers are ideal for rail transit.”
RUSH Construction and Others Are Riding the Wave
With construction projects going up across Central Florida, companies that specialize in construction for health care facilities are finding a great economy for growth.
In September, Florida Hospital began construction on its ninth Central Florida campus. The first phase will be a three-story, 75,000-square-foot building with an emergency department. The facility will have an outpatient imaging center and a clinic. Construction companies are enjoying the economic trend.
“I’m seeing a lot of capital being released,” said Al Forbes, director of medical/commercial construction for RUSH Construction, Inc. in Brevard County.
His firm is working on several major expansion projects, including those at Parrish Medical Center and Health First.
“In the last month, we’ve hired four people,” Forbes said. “I do think we’ll be hiring more.” When a major construction company hires staff, it has a ripple effect causing subcontractors and suppliers to hire additional workers too. “It grows as it goes down the line,” said Forbes, who added that his company is expanding from Brevard to find work across Central Florida.
He added that conditions in the future are favorable as the Affordable Care Act will bring health insurance to more people, which means that medical facilities must expand.
Construction Foreshadows Job Growth
Dozens of health care projects now under construction will swell the number of health care workers in Central Florida. Local colleges and universities graduate about 2,500 students who will enter the health care market each year, and they will likely find jobs, said Rick Weddle, president and CEO of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission.
The building boom is creating a range of jobs, from architect to electrician, to construction laborer. The need for health care facilities also affects what kind of housing is built in Orlando.
Assisted living centers frequently have health care components like larger elevators, nursing stations to administer medicine and complex systems to protect indoor air quality.
“Some of it is construction-related and some of it is design-related,” said Lance Walker Jr., of Walker & Company, Inc. in Orlando, which has recently completed projects for Florida Hospital and Holmes Regional Medical Center. “I definitely think we’re at the front end of a stabilized run in this field.”
He believes the trend has the momentum to continue for three to five years and that more people will come to Central Florida, where the climate and the lifestyle always draw more people from colder climates. “In the North, as soon as it thaws out we’re going to have a lot more people heading down this way,” Walker said.
Several medical facilities are going up in Central Florida, including…
- Winter Park Surgery Center has planned at $2.85 million facility
- Osceola Regional Medical Center is going up at $2.7 million
- LifeStream Behavioral Center is building Hope Springs Hospital for $200,000
- Orlando Health also is building a $24 million proton therapy facility
- Oviedo Medical Center LLC has planned an 80-bed hospital in Oviedo
- Florida Hospital Apopka plans to double its size to 100 beds
- Florida Hospital Winter Garden is building a 75,000-square-foot building