BURBANK (CNS) - Amid a running political feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday it has scrapped plans to relocate 2,000 workers to the Sunshine State in what had been a proposed $1 billion office complex.
Josh D'Amaro, chairman of the company's Parks, Experiences and Products Division, broke the news in an email sent to employees. D'Amaro did not mention DeSantis by name or give specifics behind the decision, citing only "changing business conditions."
"Given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with construction of the (Florida) campus," he wrote.
"This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one. As a result, we will no longer be asking our employees to relocate. For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back."
Disney announced in 2021 that it planned to relocate the workers to a new office complex it planned to build near Orlando, home to the Walt Disney World Resort. At the time, the company cited Florida's "business-friendly climate" and its "rich culture of hospitality" and "lower cost of living with no state income tax."
In the time since, however, Disney has been in a seemingly endless political battle with DeSantis, sparked last year with his signing of legislation restricting instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Disney came under fire from critics and some employees for failing to publicly condemn the legislation. That ultimately led to an apology issued by then-CEO Bob Chapek, and the company issued a statement in opposition to the Florida law.
Chapek was fired late last year and replaced by former CEO Bob Iger.
Countering Disney's public criticisms, DeSantis began publicly blasting the entertainment conglomerate and started an effort to crack down on Disney's operations by stripping away self-governing privileges that were granted to the company's theme park property more than 50 years ago.
Last month, Disney filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis, accusing him of orchestrating a "government retaliation" campaign against the company that threatened its business operations.
DeSantis is expected to announce a bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination some time soon.
In his letter to employees Thursday, D'Amaro said the company remains committed "to our teams who call Central Florida home."
"It is clear to me that the power of this brand comes from our incredible people, and we are committed to handling this change with care and compassion," he wrote. "I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business. We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next 10 years. I hope we're able to do so."
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who criticized Disney's announcement of the planned employee relocations two years ago, issued a statement Thursday hailing the reversal of the decision.
"Authoritarian policies have consequences," Newsom said. "This announcement is a victory for California, and the tens of thousands of Disney employees who know they can live in a state where they are respected and safe. Disney has invested billions of dollars in California, and we look forward to their increased investment and growth in our state."