By now you’re no doubt aware of some of the economic engines driving the local East Orlando economy. Fueled by the University of Central Florida, multiple government defense contracts, healthcare, a growing technology industry and all of the supplemental businesses that support these giants, the area is on its way to positioning itself as an economic leader in the future. These are high-wage jobs that could change the way our region grows and sustains itself. But, what’s it going to take to get the area the rest of the way?
“I think what we have to do is find someone to act as the leadership and the catalyst to galvanize the medical industry in Central Florida,” says retired USAF Lt. Gen. Thomas L. Baptiste, president/executive director, National Center for Simulation (NCS).
According to Baptiste, there is a “perfect storm” brewing in the area and a finite amount of time to capitalize on the opportunity to showcase Orlando as the next epicenter for medical modeling and simulation, an area he believes is key to the future economic development and stability of the region.
“We can lead the world in medical simulation and really become a world leader in the industry and now is the time,” says Baptiste. “What’s lacking right now is an advocate, someone to drive the train, that can attract all the stakeholders that need to be involved and get them to work together.”
Orlando already leads the nation in simulation and modeling with more than 150 companies employing nearly 17,000 creating a gross regional product worth more than $3 billion.
Leaders of the simulation industry believe that making the transition from defense oriented applications to digital media and medical training is the next logical step. “We have the technology, it’s here, let’s us it,” says Ron Johnson, head of business development for Laser Shot Inc, a simulation company in Research Park. “You can do things in simulation that may cost a life in the real world but not in the simulation system. If you make a mistake in the real world someone may lose a life, in a simulation no one gets hurt and you can learn a valuable lesson.”
“Since the first agreement was signed by the Navy 60 years ago, the focus of simulation training has been aimed at the Department of Defense,” Baptiste says. “We’ve done some really remarkable things and there is no reason it can’t apply to digital media, serious gaming, transportation and medical simulation as well.”
For decades, pilots and soldiers have come to rely on simulators to help them sharpen their professional skills, in fact many career pilots say they have not done anything in an airplane they did not first do in a simulator.
Locals, who had no idea the simulation industry was so large in the area, remain undecided on the issue. “It would create a lot more jobs, but they are specialized,” says James Lucas of Vista Lakes. “Without years of training, I couldn’t work there so it’s not a job opportunity for me or my family.”
Still, leaders of the simulation industry say they are ready, and the impact is potentially monumental to the healthcare field. “What we’ve done is so good and so ready to be transitioned into these other areas that all we need is for leaders in these areas to buy into the fact that it’s very easy to take what we’ve done and spin it off to fit their needs,” says Baptiste. “We can move them out of the dark ages.”
Proponents of simulation for the medical field specifically see a day in the near future where custom applications will supplement hands-on training required in medicine, perhaps even becoming a new standard in medical curriculum.
Combined with the medical city being built in Lake Nona, the proposed medical simulation cluster would be one of a kind. “All of these companies picked this area because of location and there is a cooperation between industry, academia and government,” Baptiste says. “When you start to look at the synergies that will be involved in the medical world because of that proximity and cooperation, collaboration and partnership, it’s perfect.”
The next step is selling the idea as one thing remains clear to Baptiste and the NCS team. The time to move is now, simply because the opportunity will not last.
“If we can’t get the stakeholders to at least agree on a general idea of how we take this forward soon, we’re going to miss the opportunity,” says Baptiste.
Article by Corey Gehrold