The last time the Space Coast faced overwhelming economic adversity, it fought back to become one of the best-performing communities in Florida and the nation, developing a state-leading manufacturing sector and the second-most industry-diversified economy in Florida.

This did not happen by accident. A successful strategy developed by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast replaced thousands of lost jobs that were primarily centered around one program with new high-wage jobs created by a wide-variety of companies whose decision-makers would increasingly come to be based in Brevard County.

This was accomplished with the knowledge that when the next economic downturn hit, the local economy would be in a far stronger position to weather the storm.

The Space Coast has long been recognized for its history-making technology and innovation. Today, it is again making history as home to more than 500 manufacturers producing executive jets, semiconductors, medical devices and more.

No Precedence for This Challenge

Against the backdrop of this growth entered the COVID-19 pandemic, which presents a challenge the likes of which few in living memory have faced: It threatens the community’s workforce, businesses and way of life. To have such calamity strike just when Brevard County was poised for seemingly bigger and better things is especially alarming, but the wisdom of the diversification strategy is as valid as ever.

While vital in the short term to keeping companies and jobs afloat, resources like Florida’s emergency bridge loan and various U.S. Small Business Administration programs were quickly depleted due to overwhelming demand. In the long term, high-wage jobs created by the Space Coast’s diversified manufacturing core will help other Brevard County industry sectors recover as the economy reopens.

That is why the EDC has devoted a significant portion of its COVID-19 response to the manufacturing sector with the creation of an internal manufacturing resiliency team. The EDC engaged more than 700 manufacturing contacts, including its Manufacturers Association of Florida’s Space Coast (MASC) members, to offer assistance, assess capabilities and critical needs, and troubleshoot breaks in supply chains that could be filled by local businesses.

Big Wins in Difficult Times

Aerion Reveal Hanger
Aerion Reveal Hanger

The EDC also continued its business attraction efforts and in April received welcome news. Cutting-edge aerospace company Aerion Supersonic announced a new state-of-the-art campus – Aerion Park – to be located in Melbourne. It will form a new global headquarters and integrated campus for research, design, build and maintenance of the company’s supersonic aircraft. The new project represents a multi-year $300 million investment that is expected to generate at least 675 jobs in Florida by 2026.

Aerion Park is a major vote of confidence in the future of the Space Coast economy and is an example of what can be accomplished, even in the most challenging times, when the EDC and its state and local partners, including Enterprise Florida, Space Florida, the Orlando Melbourne International Airport, Brevard County and the City of Melbourne, work together.

Aerion will break ground on the new campus later this year and is expected to attract key aerospace suppliers within the supersonic technology ecosystem to bring business to Florida, creating additional roles for scientists, designers, engineers and aircraft builders – i.e, more high-wage jobs.

Reasons for Optimism

Brevard County continues to demonstrate that where production capabilities show growth, then decisionmakers (in the form of corporate headquarters) and innovation (in the form of centers of excellence) follow.

The work of the EDC’s manufacturing resiliency team has also revealed other reasons for optimism post-pandemic. The challenge presented by out-of-state or overseas supply chains shined a spotlight on the upside of building a Florida-based supply chain for certain industries.

To that end, MASC, through its partnership with FloridaMakes and the federal government’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National Network, launched a powerful and cost-free new tool: Connex Florida (https://manufacturinginbrevard.org/connex) which started as a disaster risk mitigation effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and is proving to be a critical tool for streamlining connections between Florida manufacturers and businesses in need of their products during the pandemic.

While uncertainty abounds, Florida’s Space Coast is starting the process of recovery from a position of strength. This is certainly a marked contrast from a decade ago and something in which the people of Brevard County can and should draw comfort.

The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast is an innovative, countywide, not-for-profit partnership between the Brevard County Commission and the Space Coast business community. For more information, visit online at spaceocoastedc.org

Lynda L. Weatherman
President & CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast

Lynda L. Weatherman is the President & CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast.  She administers all operations and provides strategic direction to an organization responsible for a $2 million budget within a 1,557 Sq. mile area that is the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titsuville MSA.