Leadership

Orlando the Epicenter of the Simulation World

For nearly a half century, as most of the world focused their attention on the technological marvels being launched on the Space Coast, in East Orlando another industry was quietly growing from a niche technology into a disruptive one.
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The Only Limit is Our Imagination

For nearly a half century, as most of the world focused their attention on the technological marvels being launched on the Space Coast, in East Orlando another industry was quietly growing from a niche technology into a disruptive one.

As Mayor Teresa Jacobs put it, “Most communities are trying to catch waves that have already passed with statements like, ‘We want to be the next Silicon Valley.’ Instead, Central Florida is positioned to catch one of the technological waves that is just building, which is modeling and simulation.”

Currently modeling, simulation and training (MS&T) is a $5 billion industry in the region and supports a workforce of nearly 27,000 across the Florida High Tech Corridor. Central Florida is the world’s nexus of this rapidly developing technology, which could transform design, education and training, the way the Internet changed, well everything.

Today it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to brand Orlando as “Simulation City.”

A Synergy of Success

Soon students may not just hear about Antarctica or Renaissance Architecture, but they will enter a life-like digital representation that will take them there. Already car companies are creating the next generation automobiles in immersive realities where engineers and designers can experience the interior and exterior of a vehicle and peel back the layers of the car, like it was turned into cellophane.

The region’s MS&T companies and academic institutions (UCF and Full Sail University are rapidly becoming to this sector what Juilliard is to music or MIT is to applied physics), generate applications that run the spectrum. It ranges from military, flight and transportation training to virtual experiences for theme parks and interactive entertainment, in addition to medical training utilizing sophisticated patient simulators.

Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who has been a champion for the industry, formed a Blue Ribbon Commission back in 2013 when BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) and sequestration were threatening the various military simulation procurement offices located here. What was in jeopardy was not only a multibillion dollar industry, but a very unique situation.

In a nation where military procurement is often siloed, the MS&T acquisition organizations for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps (known as Team Orlando), as well as nine other federal government organizations all are collocated in the Central Florida Research Park. The collocation produced a gravitational pull of companies and talent which
has been extraordinary.

Describing the situation, Mayor Jacobs said, “We had grown a sizable private sector industry cluster located near the procurement offices of the various military commands with over 100 MS&T companies in or near the Research Park. These companies had an average wage of $70,000, but competing states, particularly Alabama and Virginia, had vacant facilities that they could offer the military for free.”   

National Center for Simulation

Uniting and advocating for the government, academic and private sector interests of MS&T is the National Center for Simulation (NCS), a non-profit whose President and CEO is Thomas Baptiste, a retired 3-Star general (Lt. Gen.). “The collaborative efforts of these various commands is an example of cost effectiveness and efficiency every other military research and development sector could learn from,” Baptiste observed. “Our challenge was to make a competitive value proposition that would keep them located here. An analysis done at the state level determined that Team Orlando was the most vulnerable military installation
in Florida, because of its dependence on leased space.”

Addressing this situation meant getting local and state dollars to support the construction or the purchase of facilities, which the military had been paying to lease. With other states offering accommodations at no cost, this was the only choice. So at a time when budgets were being tightened, it required a full court press by industry partners, a broad array of community leaders and a political dream team in Tallahassee driven by Rep. Steve Crisafulli, Senator Andy Gardiner and in Washington by Congressman John Mica and many others. In a legislative session that saw many worthy projects passed over, MS&T was by far the area’s biggest winner with Gov. Scott approving a $20 million appropriation from the state.

Keeping Team Orlando in Central Florida is not only crucial to the 100 plus firms located around the Research Park, but also one of the area’s legacy businesses and largest technology employers. Lockheed Martin’s Training and Logistics Solutions is headquartered in Orlando.

The company is a provider of modeling, simulation, and mission rehearsal tools for military and civilian applications, creating exact replicas of weapons, vehicles and aircraft. Military logistics which support and test equipment are also a large portion of their business, including machinery controls, logistics management systems, and automated test solutions for air, land and sea.

“Simulation allows us to put trainees into these very demanding situations, but to do it in the complete control and safety of a simulator,” said David Scott, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of business development. “A simulator might be as much as one-tenth or even less of whatever the actual piece of equipment costs to operate.

“We develop training programs that range from teaching pilots to fly the world’s most advanced fighter jet, to leading a motor convoy through city streets or preparing medical professionals to provide the best possible patient care.  Our team of talented and inventive professionals are transforming technology into effective training solutions, helping customers meet their defining moments.”

A Command Performance

For Baptiste, his involvement in the industry was more a matter of chance than design. His military career spanned being a fighter pilot, commanding a fighter squadron and commanding the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado Springs. He finished his active duty as the Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.

After his retirement he told his wife, “Judy, we’ve moved 20 times in my career; it’s your turn to decide where we go and I’ll figure out what I’m going to do once we get there.” Her choice was to get as close to their grandchildren as possible and that brought them to Orlando. “I had no network,” Baptiste recalls, “So I just started going to industry association luncheons. I incorporated myself as a consultant, which introduced me to the MS&T industry.

“However, I was never comfortable as a consultant. The money was good, but I didn’t feel like I was really making a significant contribution. If they won a contract I was working on, great, but they may have won it without me. It was so unfulfilling,” Baptiste explained.

At that time he was just learning about the scope of the local MS&T industry. Then he was approached about leading the NCS, originally a consortium to help transfer technology developed by the military into civilian commercial markets. Baptiste jumped in and has flourished in the role, while MS&T’s profile and unity has burgeoned under his leadership.

Speaking of the future Baptiste said, “We are only limited in how we use modeling and simulation by our own imagination.”


This article appears in the October 2015 issue of i4 Business.
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