In late June, military and defense personnel from throughout Florida gathered here to discuss the state's military bases, covering issues from efficiency to readiness. Central to this assembly was Team Orlando, the 12-member collaborative alliance that includes Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, housed in the Central Florida Research Park. Team Orlando has one of the most important missions in the military: to strengthen our nation's war fighters by delivering high-tech modeling, simulation and training programs that are researched and developed right here in Orlando.
As a result of the partnership between Team Orlando, the National Center for Simulation, the University of Central Florida and its Institute for Simulation and Training — a cutting-edge virtual reality, simulation research center — we are the epicenter for this technology. Our military organizations are at the core of this innovation-driven industry, contributing nearly $5 billion to Florida's gross state product, with 30,000-plus high-tech jobs with annual salaries averaging over $70,000.
Yet, challenges abound. As this cluster has grown over the past 60 years, so has interest from competing states, who would love to incentivize its relocation. But our civic and community leaders, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs (initiator of the MS&T Blue Ribbon Commission), and the Metro Orlando Defense Task Force, have provided the leadership to ensure our community and state recognize the value of this industry and work to retain it. These efforts contributed to an $8 million appropriation in this year's state legislative session. This will allow us to begin planning for additional space in the Central Florida Research Park, and helping our military commands reduce their cost of doing business — a key factor in retaining this economic engine.
Economic benefits aside, our MS&T cluster was instrumental in the Veteran Affairs Department's decision to locate their National Center for Medical Simulation in Lake Nona. Upon completion, this world-class research and training facility will transform how care is provided to the nation's wounded warriors — an incredible legacy of our MS&T success.
Waymon Armstrong is chairman of the MS&T Blue Ribbon Commission.