Legislators Want Incentives for Commercial Space Enterprise
Around the State
There's a growing realization on the Space Coast that the future of the area's economy and the future of space exploration are going to rely heavily on commercial space companies.
That realization is forming into a political consensus across both parties in the region that Florida must offer the right incentives to lure companies to Florida. Why? Because the Sunshine State is competing against a growing number of states and countries looking to get in on the space game.
Government and business leaders gathered Monday in Cocoa for the Florida Space and Technology Forum, and most agreed that Florida needs to do anything it can to cultivate the burgeoning commercial space industry in the wake of the imminent loss of the space shuttle program.
"If we're going to have Florida be at the forefront of the space business, we're going to have to change the way we do business," said Dr. George Nield, associate administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Providing more incentives is one way to do that, but Florida Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merrit Island, said streamlining Florida's government will also make the state more attractive to prospective commercial space companies.
"This is where people should be doing business. We're going to offer predictability and certainty to businesses as a Legislature," Haridopolos said, adding that eliminating tax increases and capping spending would show Florida means business.
Yet the wheels of government are bound to turn slowly and the transition away from government-subsidized space missions is already upon the Space Coast, with only three shuttle missions left. More than 1,000 shuttle-related workers were laid off earlier this month.
In the search for other emerging industries that might be a good fit for the highly-educated, highly-skilled and technologically savvy work force that sustains the shuttle launches, many have suggested green industries. But Monday's panelists said that while green industry is a thing of the future, commercial space can happen now.
"A lot of people are talking about green jobs and developing jobs, but that's just what they are -- developing. Space is proven," said Mark Nappi, Florida site executive for United Launch Alliance.
While the space industry may have a longer track record than green industry, commercial companies are going to need government help before they can launch.
"They cannot do it on their own in the first years of this initiative. The state of Florida needs to find ways to step up and support the commercial space industry, and that means funding," said Will Trafton, President of Trafton & Associates LLC.
Although support for commercial space companies can be considered bipartisan, the recent history of the space program and the reasons behind the demise of the space shuttle program are more contentious. Space Coast Republicans continue to express their sense of betrayal over President Obama's promise to continue the now-defunct Constellation program.
"I'm not done being ticked off just yet," said state Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne.
But the main focus of the panelists was keeping Florida's lead in space exploration.
"I don't think we should cede what is our manifest destiny as a community. I think it's our God-given duty to sustain that," said state Rep. Thad Allen, R-Viera.
Reach Gray Rohrer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (850) 727-0859.