Walt Disney World Resort generated more than $40 billion in economic impact across the state and more than a quarter of a million total jobs in fiscal year 2022, according to a new study from Oxford Economics.
“Disney is an economic catalyst to the state of Florida generating billions in economic activity, either directly, or indirectly through its supply chain and the spending of employees,” said Adam Sacks, president of tourism economics at Oxford Economics.
Disney released the study on Tuesday, a blatant public-relations salvo in the entertainment giant’s ongoing feud with Florida governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis. What began in March 2022 as a dispute over the governor’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida has escalated to dueling lawsuits over the special tax district governing Walt Disney World.
By any measure, the Walt Disney World Resort looms large in the Sunshine State—spanning 47 square miles in Central Florida, or roughly three times the size of Manhattan—with its four theme parks, two waterparks, more than 25 hotels, multiple golf courses and a large shopping and dining district.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was established in 1967 to help provide services, including power, water, roads and fire protection for Walt Disney World Resort. Earlier this year, the district was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and re-staffed with DeSantis appointees.
“[The Reedy Creek] district was a cost-effective mechanism throughout its history in ensuring the tax burden for these services did not fall on Orange and Osceola County residents,” Disney argues in a statement. “It allowed Disney to efficiently invest tens of billions of dollars in Florida over the past several decades by maintaining the highest development and service standards on Disney property.”
Meanwhile, the company pulled no punches as to who is responsible for the state’s strong economy, asserting: “Without Disney’s statewide job impact, Florida’s unemployment would jump from 3% to 5.4%, which would take Florida from the 21st lowest unemployment rate among all 50 states to the second highest unemployment rate in the country.”
“Disney is also vital to the funding of public services, as it generated taxes of $6.6 billion in 2022, including state and local taxes of $3.1 billion generated by Disney, non-local visitors, employees and third-party businesses—equivalent to $379 per Florida household,” the report says, noting that the company directly or indirectly employs more than 263,000 Floridians, accounting for one in eight jobs within the Central Florida Region.
The study, which was commissioned by Disney, includes the economic impact of Disney Signature Experiences in Florida, including Disney Vacation Club and Disney Cruise Line.
In August, DeSantis told CNBC he had “basically moved on” from the dispute, encouraging Disney to “drop the lawsuit” it has filed in federal court against him and the board. In multiple lawsuits, Disney says company’s free speech rights were violated when DeSantis retaliated over Disney’s opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.
While DeSantis has since softened his anti-Disney rhetoric, the company’s officials have increasingly leaned into a public relations battle. Disney CEO Bob Iger has called DeSantis “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.” And in May the company announced it was pulling the plug on a $1-billion tech campus that would have brought 2,000 high-paying jobs to Lake Nona, Florida. “A lot has changed since we made that announcement [to build the campus],” Disney parks chairman Josh D’Amaro told a J.P. Morgan investor conference, noting that “the business conditions have changed pretty significantly.”
“The numbers speak for themselves on why Disney is so important to fueling jobs, the economy and tourism throughout our region, and the future investments we’re looking to make will continue to provide even more opportunities for Floridians,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort. Disney says it still plans to invest an additional $17 billion over the next decade in Central Florida, which would potentially add another 13,000 jobs.
Taking a swing at his state’s largest private employer may have backfired on DeSantis politically. According to the political news site FiveThirtyEight, support the Florida governor in the Republican primary has plummeted from 34% in January to 14% now.
Meanwhile, on a Disney earnings call last week, Iger noted that year-over-year operating income had decreased at the Florida theme park resort due to the financial hit related to the closure of its immersive Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser experience and lower visitor spending due to lower hotel rates. But even so, Iger noted that Disney World’s revenue and operating income was up over 25% and 30%, respectively, compared to pre-pandemic numbers.
Governor DeSantis’ office did not respond to Forbes’ request for comment.