Not sure if I can finish that witticism from my rural youth in polite company. Suffice to say, it points to making yourself seem more appealing by increasing your proximity (and potential for comparison) to less appealing individuals. Yea, I know, crass. But layered in this homage to “Foxworthian” philosophy is a lesson for college grads. You can increase your perceived value by simply being compared to less valuable. Seems simple enough, eh? Not so fast…

A month or so into my new job I’m watching the local news and hear a headline about a local college student being arrested for trying to wrestle a police officer at a football game. I remember looking up over my coffee thinking, please don’t be one of MY students. Now why would that be my first reaction? Quite simply, I didn’t want the brawler to be associated with my pool of students. I didn’t want one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch.

Cities and economies have reputations as well. A city can be tagged as being unsafe or “business friendly” based on the publicity it gets/seeks. It can also develop a reputation based on what’s happening in nearby cities. Cities compete for positive press so that they can look like the place to be. And that reputation is leveraged to attract businesses, industries, and ultimately workers.

According to the most recent wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Orlando should be concerned. I looked up data for a “Financial Analyst,” a typical entry level position for recent college grads. When you compare Orlando to its closest neighbor, Tampa, we actually compare favorably with a mean annual salary about $2-3K higher (translation, about $1.70 per hour.) But, when you compare Orlando to two major metropolitan areas with highly diversified economies, we don’t fare as well. Orlando lags Miami by $7K and Atlanta by $10K. Additionally, Orlando trails Charlotte, a city of comparable population but a very different economic base by $8K. When you compare overall wages for all occupations Orlando lags all of these locations (including Tampa) by $3-5K.

Much of the buzz around my last posting had to do with salaries and wages in Central Florida. Specifically, job seekers who commented felt that wages in Orlando were too low. This can be driven by a number of factors including cost of living, the nature of Orlando’s service dominated economy, and simply what the market will bear. Additionally, the price of labor can be impacted by what is has to offer. Workers that are seen as highly trained or possessing a special expertise can drive up wages for themselves, the industries they support, and ultimately the entire economy.

So how does Orlando’s cost of living compare? Metro Orlando’s index is slightly HIGHER than the national average, being driven mostly by the cost of housing and transportation. Tampa, on the other hand, is LOWER than the national average (and almost 10 points less than Orlando!) Factor in wages that are only slightly higher and Tampa becomes more attractive by comparison. The comparison is even more striking when you look at Atlanta and Charlotte. Buoyed by lower transportation costs (public transportation and lower gas prices) both of these metro areas have cost of living indexes lower than the national average. Miami, plagued by higher transportation and housing costs is the only metro area in this informal survey that has a higher cost of living than Orlando. But factor in higher wages and it seems like it may be a wash.

Lower costs of living, higher wages, tell me again why a top quality recent grad would hang around? If we want to grow our economy and reap the long term benefits of retaining our best and brightest college grads (not to mention attracting NEW grads from elsewhere!), we’re going to have to fix this one. What tangible advantages do we have over these other metro areas? What do you think drives down wages in Central Florida? And, most importantly, what do we need to do to make ourselves look prettier? I know there are things like Sun Rail in the works, but it has been in the works for some time now. As always I invite you to weigh in on the discussion. Comment here or shoot me an email at UCF_OCC@yahoo.com.

Lonny

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“It’s a place where you either sell to those who serve, or you serve those who sell.” 

I was talking to an MBA student from our one year program this week and that phrase came out of my mouth as I was describing the types of jobs that people get in Orlando.  I’m not even sure where it came from, it just kind of came out.  But is it fair?  Is Orlando really just about theme parks, and hotels, and chain fooderies, and all the assorted things that sprout up to support them and the people who work there?  Or is it more? 

VisitOrlando estimates the “economic impact” of tourism and hospitality in the Orlando area to be just under $30 billion.  By comparison, Orlando’s “high tech” industry (everything from defense systems to video game design) was around $13 billion or less than half.  Additionally, tourism generated taxes account for almost 21% of total local tax revenue.  But more importantly, from a cultural and branding perspective, if you say “Orlando,” especially to people who don’t live here, they will most likely respond with some variation of the Mouseketeer theme.

Second, if I survey the employers that attend UCFs two major on-campus job expositions, most of the jobs they are looking to fill with our non-Accounting business graduates are some variation of sales jobs. This includes retail (business to consumer), professional (business to business), and service (selling a verb, not a noun) sales.  In many cases, an entry-level employee must get to know their company’s culture, product and processes to be viable and the best way to do that is as a professional representative of the tangible good that the company offers.  Wanna be our COO?  Well, COO-L, but you have to sell what we make first!

Now, before someone decides to flame me and say I’m anti-tourism, or anti-sales, or worse, just oversimplifying things in Orlando let me tell you, gentle reader, that I’m asking these questions for a reason.  I need good info to share with UCFs MBA students.  Those students will graduate and can either be acorns that fall to the Central FL turf and become solid oaks, or dandelion tufts that flit away and take their potential with them. 

Here’s the challenge we face in our College’s Office for Career Connections and in Colleges of Business everywhere in Florida.  We have a great pool of bright graduate business students that come out every year ready to take on some “MBA type” job that professors, advisors, parents, and media have told them awaits their graduation.  Investment banker, management consultant, international business operations pooh-bah, financial analyst, maven or matriarch of the private equity kingdom; these are the jobs I’m told by our students that they want.  But is that reality?  And is that reality dictated by the economy, the student, or some mixture of both?

After taking in the graduates’ expectations versus what is perceived to be out there, what kind of jobs can recent grads with little professional (i.e., “real”) work experience really expect?  And how can they get that experience if all anyone wants them to do is take an order or sell something?  And is doing that for a living to earn your chops all that bad?  Finally….and this is the important one, where can that ultimately get you?  Are their expectations irrelevant to or non-existent in the economy we have?  What’s missing?

Or do I have it all wrong; is there a hidden job market for MBAs that my superficial review of Orlando’s economy misses?  And if so, do our MBA grads have the skills demanded for these jobs?  Do they have to move to Atlanta or New York to get that iconic “MBA job” or can they get it here…or does it exist anywhere anymore?  Who is hiring recent MBA grads and what are they asking them to do?

Intrigued by these questions?  Do you want to fire off a “HELL YEA” or “YER WRONG” note to me?  Cool, bring it.  That’s what I was hoping for so I want to talk to you.  My email address is ucf_occ@yahoo.com and I promise you WILL get a response and/or invitation to present your case (unless you’re a complete nut job).  Over the next few weeks and months, this space will be a place to find conventional and unconventional discussions on Orlando’s perceived identity crisis, and whether it really matters.  And if you don’t have an opinion or don’t care…well, that may be yet another question to ask!

Lonny