In “Section I: Visions Lost” of my book Corporate Empathy I write about Walt Disney’s biggest most daring plan ever. A plan that was scrapped and disregarded as too risky after he died. A plan that if attempted then or today (it is still viable) would completely reshape the economic landscape of the state Florida.
The EPCOT name given to the simple theme park we love and enjoy today was actually an acronym for the largest boldest ideas the free market private sector had ever imagined. At the time, the United States was heavily investing in Florida’s Space Coast in support of the coming Apollo 11 moon shot in 1969. Imagining how technology would change the world was on nearly everyone’s mind.
Walt Disney being the original Imagineer visualized the future. He amassed the land for Walt Disney World so that he could realize his dream of building the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow (E.P.C.O.T.). Walt Disney requested and gained the support of the Florida Legislature and Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District that gave the Disney organization almost total autonomy within its borders.
People today often believe that autonomy was simply to allow the company to freely build out the property as a resort and compete for public money for development projects. While that is what the Disney Corporation has actually done it is not close to what Walt Disney’s plans were.
The most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida Project, in fact the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World will be our Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. We call it EPCOT. – Walt Disney
The most important part? Yet subsequent Disney CEOs have not even attempted build it. Walt Disney’s vision of the “Florida Project” was to locate the center of America’s technology industry in the middle of Central Florida. Like a permanent World’s Fair, Disney’s knack for entertaining would attract the world to witness America’s technological innovations being developed on-site.
Similarly to Google using it’s advertising revenue to evolve an ever-growing web of innovative ideas, Walt Disney understood that being an entertainment company alone would not be sustainable. Subsequent CEOs have used blind growth, mergers, and acquisitions to grow the Disney brand but have lost the core values needed to invent new spaces to exist.
Walt’s Disney’s EPCOT vision of innovation on planet Earth was as bold as current private ventures like Elon Musk’s plans for space travel and is just as important today as it was then.
Our cities are still messy and dangerous and suffer from terrible design and logistics. The Disney “Florida Project” could today be a place of innovation and testing. There is no other place in the country that offers this vast unregulated freedom to innovate.
In 1967 the Florida Legislature and Governor signed the largest blank check for economic development, technological innovation, and high tech job growth the free market has ever seen…
To this day it has only been used for entertainment.
Read more from the book Corporate Empathy with a free chapter about Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow (EPCOT).