Tech giant Apple corporate campus

Tech giant Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: APPL) announced on Jan. 17 that it’s seeking an American city in which to build a corporate campus that will create 20,000 jobs. Orlando’s economic development agency already is seeking a chance to submit a proposal to the iPhone maker.

Apple, which has a 14,000-square-foot office at the University Center at 11301 Corporate Blvd. near the University of Central , says the economic benefit will come through increased spending in manufacturing, capital expenditures, hiring and company tax payments, including about $38 billion in repatriation tax payments as part of recent changes to tax laws.

“The Orlando Economic Partnership certainly is interested in putting together a proposal for Apple, and we are in the process of learning more about the company’s needs,” said Laureen Martinez, senior director for marketing and communications for the city’s economic development agency.

Getting Apple would be a major deal — the same, if not bigger than landing Amazon’s HQ2. Amazon plans to invest $5 billion in a yet-to-be-selected.

While Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) would have been a big get for Central Florida, getting Apple would boost Orlando’s technology industry, too, said Chester Kennedy, CEO of BRIDG, the group that operates the $70 million, 109,000-square-foot Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center in Osceola County. “Apple is a huge magnet to convene and elevate the tech industry. Our region will gain by having them locate here, especially since this leverages the strengths of our existing targeted industries and brings awareness to those that don’t already know ‘the other half’ of our story.”

The story he’s referring to is the fact that Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center anchors NeoCity, a 500-acre tech campus in Osceola County, which is a blank canvas for elite tech companies to expand and capitalize on the growing Internet of Things industry. The center will focus on producing smart sensors — tiny microchips that connect everyday items to the internet for data analysis. Smart sensors are something that Apple uses often in its products from its iPhone to smart watches.

Kennedy was aware of how useful Apple could be in Central Florida before the company made the announcement that it was searching for a city to in which to expand. “In fact, I and the team from the Orlando Economic Partnership met with Apple representatives at their headquarters last year to discuss the value of increasing their presence here in Central Florida. Of course it would be a big deal for us as they are big integrators of sensors in their devices. With an Apple location, Central Florida will gain even more momentum in the world of smart sensors and the Internet of Things.”

However, getting Apple will be difficult, much like competing for Amazon, which involved 238 proposals from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. “This will be another coveted trophy in competition with a lot of cities in the country to get this next Moby Dick of a headquarters,” said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. “Amazon would have been a major game changer in the line of Disney World for the region, but you can’t cry over spilled prime memberships.”

Local tech leaders agreed that lessons can be learned from losing Amazon. “The criteria Amazon had, which included access to an airport and a region with a million residents, we clearly fulfill,” said Carlos Carbonell, CEO of Orlando-based Echo Interaction Group. “An important aspect was the region’s ability to attract tech talent. This is the aspect we not only can work better at, but demonstrate that we can attract tech talent and then follow through on our plans.”

Carbonell further recommended the city gather insights from other local leaders previously from cities where big companies like Amazon and Apple are located. “If the product is ‘Orlando as a place to relocate a to,’ then let’s leverage local voices and perspectives. We need to introspect what proportion of programs and career tracks our academic institutions focus on for training that can help us become a more prepared city. If we are not ready for Amazon today, we can be within a few years.”

Snaith agreed with Carbonell, saying the local workforce may not have been large enough, but public transportation is also something the region needs help with. “Transportation is under improvement right now with Brightline, but I don’t think Lynx has a dedicated source of funding and that is something we need to pay attention to.”

Snaith also said a lack of incentives may have played a big factor in not making the Amazon HQ2 shortlist. “Until we see what the final deal looks like, if this is driven by incentive packages, Florida may need to revisit its stance on incentives.”

However, “being in the consideration for Amazon really helped us. Being in the game brought together various groups across the region to talk and cooperate at a new level. This left us in a much better place to cooperatively pursue future opportunities,” Kennedy said. “I’m convinced we all gain if Miami stays in the [running], although not as much as we would have gained if a Central Florida site was still in consideration.”

Snaith also is confident that even if Orlando loses out on Apple, there will be other opportunities. “From the tax reform law, money will be coming back to the U.S. and a lot more companies will be looking to expand and invest in the U.S. down the road.”