Sunday, October 17, 2010

Officials try to lure space jobs to Brevard


Economic development officials are negotiating with 57 companies that could bring about 5,000 jobs if they can be lured to Brevard.

Though some of those prospects likely will opt to locate elsewhere, those that do come to Brevard will do so in part because of incentives.

"I will tell you that 57 active projects is a lot more than we had last year," Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, said Monday. "That's why it's critical that we look at incentives."

Weatherman spoke on one of several panels convened as part of the Space & Technology Forum at the Florida Solar Energy Center on the Brevard Community College campus in Cocoa. The half-day event, which drew about 300 participants and spectators, focused on using economic incentives to lure high-tech businesses to Brevard as the shuttle program winds down, ending the space industry careers of about 8,000 shuttle workers.

The forum, one of a series that began four years ago, was attended by U.S. Reps. Suzanne Kosmas and Bill Posey, as well as state lawmakers, county commissioners and space industry officials.

Space Florida President Frank DiBello said his agency will work with the Legislature during the next session to create incentives for space companies to come to Florida.

"We're going to be seeking a number of tax incentives, a research and development tax credit, plus financing and insurance incentives that are unique," DiBello said. "Don't worry, Florida gets it. We know what it takes to close a commercial case for business companies."

In the meantime, Brevard's space companies are shedding jobs at an alarming pace.

United Space Alliance, the prime shuttle contractor, has gone from peak Brevard employment of 6,000 to 4,100 now, and another 3,000 workers will be lost when the shuttle stops flying next year.

"We're finding jobs for our people, but it's not in the state of Florida," Mark Nappi, USA Florida site executive, said.

Meanwhile, Florida officials, facing an increased reliance on commercial space companies and a decreased dependence of NASA launch programs, apparently are learning how to attract private investment.

"This was not always the friendliest environment for space companies. That is changing," space industry consultant Will Trafton, a former Boeing and NASA official, said at the forum. "I'm talking to everyone I see who has a company to bring them into Florida. I like what I see."

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