Space Coast Economy Launches Again

Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast President and CEO Lynda Weatherman listened patiently as the two consultants intently discussed the physics and engineering challenges of a manned deep space vehicle. Admiring their breadth of knowledge, she could see why they were recognized around the world as subject experts. However, it was pretty heady, and her mind was drifting to preparing for her next meeting and the mountain of emails building like a tsunami in her inbox, not the impact of solar radiation on astronauts during extended space voyages.

Then they said the words that echoed in her thinking like the firing of a howitzer: “They haven’t selected a site to assemble the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle).” Recently, she said, “I still remember hearing that like it was yesterday. We never had the chance to really initiate anything concerning space; we were simply a launch site, which is great, but we were responding to decisions others made.” This was an opportunity for Brevard to move into a different role and to leverage the breadth of expertise, which one of America’s greatest brain/talent trusts possessed, and to prevent its dispersion, like what happened after the Apollo program was retired. 

Years later, on December 5, 2014, the Orion spacecraft successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 37 on its maiden orbital test flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), to prove systems required for human, deep space exploration. Orion is designed to transport humans to interplanetary destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the moon and eventually Mars, and return them safely back to Earth. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.

The day of the launch, Weatherman said, “A historic announcement has come full circle. Nearly a decade ago, a group of aerospace advocates joined the EDC in bringing the vision and reality of Orion to the Space Coast. While it was a turning point in utilizing the capabilities that exist here, winning the assembly and checkout of this program also simultaneously mitigated one of the worst economic challenges this community has ever faced with an impending Shuttle shutdown. We are especially pleased for Lockheed Martin, a company that put their confidence in our high-tech workforce. Today, we proved together that the talent that exists here knows no limits.”

It was one of many wins this community has had since the pall of the Space Shuttle’s retirement was cast over it and national news programs were singing Brevard’s funeral dirge.  But today, Brevard is singing a new song, “Yo ho, Yo ho, it’s off to work we go,” as the net gain in jobs is now greater than the losses caused by the end of Shuttle launches.  

cent-campus-northeast1_0Tactical Advances

Weatherman likes to say, “Talk is cheap, and in economic development, there is a lot of talk, especially about ‘diversifying our economic base.’ However, it is making the tactical steps to achieve that goal that is the differentiator. Everyone has the same strategy.”

It hasn’t been one big win that has tipped the scale in Brevard’s favor, to make it not only home to the largest percentage of engineers in its population of any county in the state, but to also have the second largest manufacturing base in East Central Florida, next to Orange County. Rather, it has been the growth and success of many companies, large and small, that have matured or moved to the area, and a favorable business climate, which combined with its natural climate, make the Space Coast a great place to live, work and play.

Some of the great local companies that have achieved incredible growth in the last few years are Diamondback Firearms and Diamondback Towers. The two companies, both located in Cocoa, are the brainchild of the company’s president, Bobby Fleckinger.  

Diamondback Firearms, founded in 2009, is an American-made firearms manufacturer of pistols and rifles, well-known in the industry for employing American craftsmen to engineer and produce the highest quality firearms. In addition, another one of their companies, Diamondback Towers, produces distinguished wakeboard towers and accessories for elite boat makers, like Ski Nautique, for over 10 years. Selling directly to boat manufacturer OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) to install on new boats or to sell to existing customers, they had an impressive 23 percent growth in 2014 (see GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch profile in FL Trep).

Vinu Patel’s Anuva Manufacturing Services, which started in Morrisville, N.C., began by providing world-class after-market and logistics services to customers. They expanded their operation by acquiring a contract manufacturing operation, whose roots date back to the Dictaphone contract manufacturing operation here and relocated their headquarters to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne. Anuva was recently recognized as a GrowFL Florida Company to Watch.

Not only these growing businesses, but commercial construction has taken an uptick as new buildings are taking shape across the county. Of particular focus has been the Harris High Technology Center in Palm Bay and the new NASA headquarters building. NASA’s $64 million multi-story building will replace the aging structure built in the 1960s, and they estimate its unique construction and energy efficient design will save a whopping $400 million over the next 40 years. 

Siemens FPL turbine discharge14The Logic of Logistics

Brevard has watched in awe as Port Canaveral has not only become a nexus of the cruise industry, where the big boats depart for tropical destinations, but also where ships come to offload their passengers to visit Kennedy Space Center, the beaches and Central Florida theme parks. In addition, the Port Authority is continuing to add investment and amenities which are transforming the Port property into a destination in itself that is enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.

But new plans are beginning to take shape that could turn north and central Brevard into the same type of logistical center that Lakeland, Fla. targeted 20 years ago. Many see the new cargo shipping plan, beginning at Port Canaveral, as the best way to revive commercial opportunity on U.S. 1 in North Brevard, which continues to show signs of aging and lack of commercial and industrial activity.

“The reuse of the existing barge and rail-serviced site that has been an industrial power plant over the course of many decades is not only a valuable generator of jobs and commerce in the north Brevard area and Central Florida, but also serves as a productive reuse of an underutilized industrial property,” Laura Canady, director of economic development for the city of Titusville, was quoted as saying.

The idea is to use barges to transport rail cars filled with bulk cargo to the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) plant south of Titusville, where the rail cars would be transferred to the Florida East Coast Railway and then transported all over the United States.

The project is estimated to cost about $20 million and would add a 2,000-foot-long rail link across U.S. 1, and according to Port Canaveral CEO John Walsh, could be operational by May 2, 2015. He explained that the barge-to-rail system likely would operate once a week in each direction, but could expand to every-other-day service, based on demand.

The second, more ambitious project, would link the Port to rail lines in Titusville via a proposed 11-mile-long, single-rail line crossing the Banana River that would connect to an existing KSC rail line. That project, Walsh indicated would cost $75 million, and could be completed by late 2017.

Currently, Port Canaveral generates 80 percent of its revenue from cruise operations, but for the past few years has been aggressively moving into the cargo business. The Port signed a 35-year agreement with a unit of the United Arab Emirates-based Gulftainer to operate a cargo terminal at the Port; Gulftainer’s investment could reach $100 million locally in infrastructure, equipment and staff within its first seven years of operation. Port officials and Gulftainer representatives believe the rail links are crucial toward that effort.

This addition to the Port’s cargo volume could create 5,000 direct and spinoff jobs in the region within seven years — and 10,000 to 15,000 jobs within 15 years.

Both options are meeting some resistance from environmentalists and some homeowners. Walsh described it as a “delicate balance” of facilitating economic growth and preserving the environment. However, it looks as though this project, which could change the economic composition of Brevard, will continue to move towards realization.

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Business.
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