Space Job Losses Start This Week
Around the State
More than 1,000 space-related workers are scheduled to be let go Friday in the first round of layoffs related to the imminent demise of the space shuttle program.
In speeches earlier this year, President Barack Obama called for an end to the Constellation program that was to replace the shuttle, leaving the space industry’s future in Florida in doubt.
Although there are several rocket launches scheduled well into 2011, there are just two scheduled shuttle launches left on NASA’s docket.
Obama’s plan for the space industry is reliant on an emerging commercial space industry to fill the gap left by the federal government, but critics of the plan, such as U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, call the plan unfeasible. Posey and other Space Coast legislators have called for one additional shuttle launch to help cushion the impact of the job losses.
But some area business leaders and economic development organizations are pushing the commercial space industry and green jobs and technology as a way for the Space Coast to transition to a more diversified economy. They point to the area’s highly-educated, highly-skilled work force as a foundation on which to build the industries of the 21st century.
Space Florida, a state agency dedicated to economic development in the aerospace field, is hopeful of luring commercial businesses to Brevard County that will snatch up Kennedy Space Center’s laid off workers.
“Space Florida is aggressively pursuing a number of commercial markets that have ties to space utilization and related supply chain activities, and many of these companies require a highly-skilled, technical work force, like today’s shuttle workers,” said Tina Lange, director of marketing communications for Space Florida.
The job losses will obviously hit the Space Coast the hardest, but the ripple effects will likely be felt all over the state. According to state statistics, there were 403 aerospace-related businesses in Florida as of 2007, employing more than 31,500 people with an average annual salary of more than $71,000.
Organizers of a green industry symposium in Cocoa earlier this month were pushing green jobs as a substitute for space jobs, but said the Space Coast’s potential would take time to translate into a green groundswell.
Meanwhile, local leaders are at a loss as to how best to mitigate the imminent job losses and their after-effects. The end of the shuttle program and the subsequent job losses have been known for some time, but Brevard’s municipalities seem dependent on the federal government to sustain the space industry.
“The job losses have been known for some time. We’re certainly trying to attract new business to the area,” said Mark Ryan, city manager of Titusville, where the majority of the workers affected by Friday’s layoffs live. He could not name any specific plans or policies designed to replace the space jobs.
Clearly, a transition to a more diversified economy is needed for the Space Coast. Lange admits there is no silver bullet that can replace the space shuttle.
“You can’t replace 8,000 jobs with one commercial deal,” Lange said.
Reach Gray Rohrer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (85) 727-0859.