The Space Coast was built on a goal that was so far reaching, it was beyond the capability of the government or any specific industry to realize, much like our vast interstate highway or port and airport system. America’s space program needed not only the capital, but the intellectual might and the technical/industrial resources of the entire nation to accomplish this monumental human achievement.
It was a partnership between the people, the government and private industry. These types of partnerships continue to define how we advance America’s frontiers in the 21st century, not only in exploration, as we see with SpaceX or Blue Origin, but the challenges of economic growth.
Fifty years ago, automobile manufacturing was centered in the industrial Midwest, particularly Michigan and Ohio. Today, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes vehicles are built in Alabama, Kias in Georgia, Fords and Cadillacs in Tennessee and Lincolns and Toyotas in Kentucky. In addition, consider all the ancillary businesses that feed off these industrial juggernauts, by supplying parts, logistics and fabrication.
The efforts to attract, retain and grow major industries of this magnitude require an unprecedented level of cooperation between state and local government and private industry. The current surge of activity in the aerospace is no exception. It will no more happen by chance, than the idea that we would have made it to the moon or even into space, simply because it was beckoning to us. Even the successes of modern space entrepreneurs are predicated on a space infrastructure that was built as a public/private partnership.
STAYING ON TARGET
Many Brevard residents do not realize how unique our county economy is, nor are they aware of how that partnership has facilitated our resurgence. Unlike other regions that are service oriented, the Space Coast has a robust manufacturing and technology-based economy which commands higher salaries and benefits.
Underscoring our unique, but precarious position, Joe Mayer, of Lockheed Martin and chair-elect of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, observed that most people do not realize where we came from. The county was facing job losses that could have approached 20,000 with the retirement of the Space Shuttle.
Mayer said, “The EDC was so incredibly successful, that today, unemployment is now at historic lows. Because of that, some question the need for the EDC. To think these large companies, which continue to relocate here, will do so just because we have nice beaches, lots of sunshine and affordable housing is a pipe dream.”
Speaking from firsthand experience, though Mayer was not directly involved, his company recently chose to move close to 300 jobs to Brevard from Sunnyvale, CA as a part of their support of the Navy’s fleet ballistic missile program. Lockheed’s footprint in the area, which also includes fabrication of the Orion deep space exploration capsule and the Astrotech Space Operations subsidiary in Titusville, has a local workforce in the range of 1400.
Mayer came to this area after spending 16 years in Houston, working first for Boeing, then for Lockheed Martin in external affairs and government relations. While there, he was introduced to the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership (BAHEP) and recognized how critical they were to the aerospace industry that had grown up around Johnson Space Center. “When I came to Florida, we had been long standing members of the EDC, but because of my experience with BAHEP, I would have sought them out anyway,” he said.
After meeting Lynda Weatherman and the EDC team, Mayer felt he had struck gold. “Lynda’s strategic and tactical skills, at both seeing the overarching issues, combined with knowing how to direct efforts to achieve our goals is almost without parallel. I was all in,” he said.
THE X FACTOR - WORKFORCE
One of the major shifts our EDC has made is to raise awareness of the mounting need for talent across the job spectrum. One could almost say that economic development and workforce development have, in some ways, become synonymous.
Working with CareerSource Brevard, significant headway has been made particularly in the area of manufacturing. Brevard boasts over 500 manufacturing companies in aviation, aerospace, medical equipment, communications, transportation and others. Not only is demand high, as 55 percent of the people in this sector are 45 years or older, job stability ranks second and the wages are 21 percent higher than the average in the U.S.
To address this need, the EDC has launched efforts under what it calls, “Seeing Manufacturing Through New Eyes.” It is designed to develop a new paradigm of what manufacturing careers can be like for both young people and the parents who help guide them, particularly making them aware that most modern manufacturing jobs are STEM related.
Part of this is the Certified Production Technician Training Program (CPT), which is a ten-week course to prepare people for entry into the manufacturing arena. Once they are placed, they are introduced to stackable industry certifications, which allow upward advancement.
“Almost organically, these individuals are coming back to us about individual training they want to complete that is geared to where they want to specialize,” Weatherman said. Adding that 87 percent of the individuals who have completed CPT have been placed in jobs.
“You should come to this area to build your career because we are the home for 21st century technology.”
A UNIFIED BRAND
In the competition on the professional side for engineers, computer scientists and the like, Brevard is going up against communities such as Nashville, Austin, Atlanta or Southern California. “What we need is a kind of comprehensive, ubiquitous, universal brand placement, so that when people think about us, there is an emotional identification with what our area is all about,” Weatherman said.
The larger companies that make up the local economy, Harris, Northrop Grumman, Collins, Embraer etc., arerecruitingtotheirorganization for a particular job. According to Weatherman, those efforts must be matched by all the organizations within the community and the state of Florida itself, to say, “You should come to this area to build your career because we are the home for 21st century technology.”
In conjunction with the Tourist Development Commission, a modest campaign has been launched called “Live Big” with the tag line, “Better Gigs, Sunny Digs.” The idea is to inspire a brand that links great lifestyle opportunities with remarkable, cutting edge career opportunities.
This is the essence of what Brevard county offers. A place that is large enough in the advancement of new and cutting-edge careers and large enough to have the kind of amenities everyone looks for. Yet it is of a size where involvement and meaningful engagement are limited only by your willingness. All because of a commitment to a public/private partnership that has spanned decades.
For more information, visit spacecoastedc.org or call 321.638.2000. Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast is located at 6525 3rd Street, Suite 304, Rockledge, FL 32955.