Disney scraps $867m Florida plan amid Ron DeSantis feud

May 18, 2023  -BBC News –The Walt Disney Company has scrapped a plan to invest nearly $1bn (£806m) to build a new corporate campus in Florida, it announced.

The reversal comes amid an escalating feud between the entertainment giant and the state’s Republican-led government headed by Ron DeSantis.

The plan would have seen about 2,000 employees relocate to a Disney-owned town centre at Lake Nona, near Orlando.

Disney and Florida have both sued each other in recent weeks.

The cancellation was announced in an internal email to employees, including some who had relocated to Florida ahead of the campus’ opening, on Thursday.

The Lake Nona initiative had previously been driven by former CEO Bob Chapek, who was fired by Disney in November.

In the internal email – seen by BBC News – Josh D’Amaro, the head of Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products division, said the company’s decision was the result of “considerable changes” that have taken place since it was first announced, including “new leadership and changing business conditions”.

“This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one,” Mr D’Amaro wrote.

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Plans for the Lake Nona campus included moving employees belonging to Disney Imagineering – the firm’s secretive research and development arm focused on park design – from California to Florida.

Mr D’Amaro’s email said that Disney will no longer ask employees to move and will discuss next steps with those who have already done so.

Many of the jobs that were supposed to relocate to Florida were higher paid, white collar and tech-focused positions.

The Orlando Business Journal reported that the average annual wage for the positions was $120,000 – a potentially lucrative group of new residents that would have boosted Orlando’s economy.

After Mr Chapek’s departure last year, his predecessor and replacement as chief executive, Bob Iger, announced sweeping changes aimed at boosting its profitability and helping it survive as its traditional movie and television business declines, and as new offerings, such as streaming, remain loss making.He has reorganised operations and announced roughly 7,000 job cuts in pursuit of more than $5bn in savings.

The “changes” alluded to in Mr D’Amaro’s email also including mounting tensions between Disney and Florida’s government led by Mr DeSantis. The BBC has contacted Mr DeSantis’ office.

The relationship between Disney and Florida – where it is the largest single-site employer – began deteriorating last year after Mr DeSantis condemned the company for opposing a same-sex education bill.

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