When many think of Orlando, they likely think tourism — and they would be right.

  • I/ITSEC comes to Orange County Convention Center
  • Conference is the largest of its kind
  • Simulation makes up 100,000 jobs in the state

While the industry remains Central Florida's bread and butter, those who market the region to the world want others to think simulation, too.

This week, I/ITSEC, the annual simulation, modeling and training conference, takes over the Orange County Convention Center. The four-day-long session brings together companies rooted in technology, spanning defense, healthcare and gaming industries.

“The modeling, simulation and training industry is one of those very few people know about, but folks here understand its importance," said Casey Barnes, with the Orlando Economic Partnership. “We’re working to continue to grow that industry.”

It's the largest conference of its kind — and it’s held each year in the city beautiful.

“We keep coming back to I/ITSEC because Orlando is the home of I/ITSEC," said Chris Stellwag.

“It’s our single biggest trade show of the year.”

Stellwag works for CAE, one of the world's top simulation companies. The Canada-based company, who now has offices in Tampa and Orlando, set up their gigantic booth at the convention Monday morning.

“You fly in a Southwest or Delta aircraft. Those pilots would’ve trained in CAE flight simulators," Stellwag explained. “This is the place to be the week after Thanksgiving.”

The Orlando Economic Partnership said that simulation makes up 100,000 jobs, direct and indirect, in Florida, and amounts to $6 billion GDP for the state.

Yet, marketing an emerging industry to the world — when its tourism industry is so strong — can be a challenge.

“Part of the problem is, it’s so new as an industry cluster, it’s hard to define," Barnes said.

Barnes and others are working to change perception and ensure that Orlando is synonymous with more than the mouse.

“We have a lot of great industries here that aren’t tourism, even though tourism is fantastic. We build from there," he said.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and nine other federal entities all have their simulation commands in Orlando.

“When they have a simulation or training need, or want to buy a certain technology, the command purchases it from industry,” Barnes said. “It’s about $4 billion dollars annually in contracts.”

This year, I/ITSEC expects over 17,000 people to head to the Orange County Convention Center for the conference, with 20 percent of them coming from outside the U.S.