Eleven years after losing out to Bloomberg, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer may get the last laugh on JetBlue

Eleven years after choosing New York over Orlando as its headquarters, JetBlue is rumored to be second-guessing the decision.

Last week the New York Post reported an internal memo was sent to staff at the airline’s New York headquarters indicating the airline was reviewing options ahead of the July 2023 expiration for its current office space lease. The memo stated the company was reviewing its office needs, pointing to changes in office requirements thanks to hybrid work and the impact of COVID-19 on the company. In speaking to the media, a spokesperson for the airline said a decision is expected later this year.

If the company does decide to leave New York, Orlando is favorably positioned as one of the more likely locations for the future headquarters. Prior to choosing its current headquarters, JetBlue reviewed multiple sites, with the New York location winning out over Orlando. At the time, JetBlue executives expressed interest in growing its presence in Orlando. The 2010 decision was a blow to Central Florida, which was still recovering from the Great Recession. Now, as it recovers from yet another recession, the city may have what it takes to attract JetBlue to town.

Just northeast of Orlando International Airport sits JetBlue University, a massive training facility that includes a private 196-room hotel. In March of last year, the Orlando Business Journal shared details on JetBlue's plans for dramatically expanding its footprint at that site. According to OBJ, the plans for the site may have included a 240,000-square-foot office building, an auditorium and a parking garage for 1,000 cars. At the time, a spokesperson for JetBlue dismissed any speculation that the potential expansion project was for future plans or budgets.

JetBlue’s decision to remain in New York last time was thanks in part due to competing financial packages that pitted Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer against New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. New York's package totaled more than $30 million and saw the airline use New York’s iconic “I (heart) New York” logo on its planes.

Like other Sun Belt states, Florida has attracted many corporations in recent years. The state’s lower taxes and operating costs have helped it pull many corporate headquarters from northern states. Talk of such moves has increased since the pandemic, with corporations questioning the need for large, expensive urban office space — particularly after 2020's work-from-home revolution — while workers seek more private outdoor space.

Major New York financial executives have also expressed interest in being based in the Sunshine State, which has no state income tax. Elliott Management, Citadel, Moelis and Goldman Sachs have all expressed interesting in opening offices in the state or allowing some workers to be based here.

The shift to Florida would bring much-needed high-paying jobs. According to a 2019 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Orlando had some of the lowest wages of any major metropolitan area, with a median wage of just $16.50 an hour. Meanwhile, New York saw a median of $23.48 per hour.

JetBlue also has a travel products subsidiary in Fort Lauderdale, making that city also a potential destination for the headquarters.

It’s rare that a politician gets a second chance at a big project, but Buddy Dyer may get just that with JetBlue.

New York officials are already working to keep JetBlue. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called JetBlue's CEO: “The purpose of my call to Mr. Hayes was simply to remind him that JetBlue’s roots and its future are here in New York,” explained Schumer in prepared remarks regarding the call. Schumer went on to say, “Bottom line, I am confident JetBlue will remain New York’s hometown airline for a long time to come.”

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