For over a half century, Lockheed Martin has had a strategic role on the Space Coast helping usher forward some of the industry’s most futuristic builds, from the earliest manned missions, to landing on the moon and the exciting development of the Space Shuttle and the Orion spacecraft, the company has made innovative and historic contributions to these projects and many more. A less-publicized role – but one that has been equally important and definitely as challenging technologically speaking – has been its support for America’s Fleet Ballistic Missile Programs. Joe Mayer, Lockheed Martin Space, Director, Government Relations-Florida, has been a part of the company’s evolution on the Space Coast, as well as playing a vital role in guiding the community’s economic revitalization as Chair of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast (EDC).

Photography by Jason Hook

EW: Describe the professional journey that brought you to Brevard?

JM: I’m a New Jersey native, but I’m right at home on the Space Coast, because so many of our residents here are from New Jersey and New York. I never imagined I would be working in the space industry when I began as a history major at William Paterson University in New Jersey. I had watched a TV program called Firing Line, with a public policy expert and my academic advisor recommended that I do graduate work at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. That really opened my eyes to the broader world of foreign and public policy and the national security arena. I then landed a job doing national security work for Senator Jake Garn, during a very exciting time when the Senate was debating ratification of the SALT II Treaty. Senator Garn opposed ratification, and I worked with him on that issue, as well as a collaboration with Senator John Glenn to revive the B-1 bomber program.

EW: So how did you come to leave the Senate?

JM: My counterpart in Senator Glenn’s office went to work for Rockwell International. About five years later, he contacted me and shared they were setting up a congressional relations group and asked me to join. I loved working in the Senate, but it was the right time, personally and professionally. Also, instead of working on the DOD programs side of Rockwell, I would be involved with NASA’s portfolio; Rockwell, for example, was the prime contractor on the Space Shuttle, which had broad support on both sides of the political aisle. From that time, I have worked in a very bi-partisan arena of public policy supporting U.S. leadership in space exploration. I’ve also experienced a certain kind of industry ‘bi-partisanship’ as companies work together as teammates, such as on the F-35 program, while competing in other areas. That’s where the term – which was new to me – ‘competimates’ applies. This new dynamic has created a changing and more integrated space program, with new ‘commercial’ companies and traditional ‘government contract’ companies, like Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin, teaming together to support programs such as NASA’s Lunar Lander. In my mind, it’s no longer ‘new or old’ space, but rather ‘Future Space’ which is what we are and will continue to create here on the Space Coast.

EW: What brought you to Texas?

JM: Truth be told that after nearly 20 years in the nation’s capital, my wife, Robin, asked “Is there someplace other than Washington, D.C. where we could live and raise our family?”

I found a job leading government & external relations in Houston, Texas. It was a great opportunity where not every conversation focused on what congress or the president was doing. My work involved the broader community and grassroots space advocacy.

It changed my paradigm about how the company contributes to the community, while also pursuing its business goals. That experience really broadened my portfolio of professional relationships, working not only with elected officials, but the superintendent of schools and local business leaders. One of my primary connections there was with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, BAHEP. Like here, in addition to the chambers, it was where NASA and all the major contractors interfaced with the community.

EW: Then you transitioned to Lockheed Martin but you took that experience with you?

JM: When I came here, I believe the first week, I made an appointment to meet with the EDC’s President and CEO, Lynda Weatherman. We were already EDC members, but I saw with BAHEP what that could mean to a company and a community, and I wanted to strengthen that relationship.

EW: How has Lockheed Martin’s presence and footprint evolved here since you arrived in 2013?

JM: It has been dramatic. When I arrived, we had two major programs, one was the Orion spacecraft, the deep space exploration vehicle, which, because of the leadership of the EDC, is being assembled here on the Space Coast at KSC. The state invested $35 million to modify and upgrade what is now the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility, which was then offered to companies for programs like Orion.The other program was Fleet Ballistic Missile or FBM. I actually didn’t know much about our FBM program presence on the Space Coast when I arrived in Florida. In fact, when I was driving to my office the first day, I saw a sign that said, ‘NOTU’ and I had no idea what that was. Then I discovered we had three to four times as many people supporting the Naval Ordnance Test Unit (NOTU), on the Navy’s strategic deterrent program, than we did with NASA, assembling the Orion spacecraft which had a much larger public profile.

EW: I suppose a quantum leap was moving Lockheed Martin’s FBM headquarters here?

JM: Yes, the headquarters of that operation is now in Titusville, led by our Vice President for FBM Programs, Dr. Sarah Hiza. In addition, Lockheed Martin is assembling the first of two Orion spacecraft, Artemis 1 and 2, to support deep space human exploration missions to the moon and destinations beyond, like Mars. Artemis 1 will be delivered to NASA this year in the June time frame, and will ultimately fly from KSC uncrewed aboard a new rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS. The Artemis 2 vehicle will be the first to fly a crewed lunar mission where America will again be putting astronauts into deep space from the Space Coast. By the way, one might think of deep space in these terms: Space Station in low-Earth orbit is about 240 miles from Earth, while the moon (deep space) is 240,000 miles away, and Mars is, at its closest, about 40 million miles away. Orion and Artemis are deep space human exploration programs.

Lockheed Martin and NASA have also just signed the OPOC contract, which is the Orion Production and Operations Contract. It is for up to 12 spacecraft through and past 2030, for work that will be done right here at KSC on the Space Coast. It is a centerpiece element of human exploration to the moon and Mars. It is amazing, in the relatively short seven years I have been in Florida, Lockheed Martin has relocated its headquarters for the Fleet Ballistic Missile Programs, established and expanded our Orion spacecraft assembly and manufacturing capacity, and purchased Astrotech Space Operations, which is located in Titusville and processes most of the spacecraft payloads that fly from this area, whether for scientific, commercial or national security missions. In addition, we are part of United Launch Alliance or ULA, which is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Florida, when I arrived, ranked third in terms of Lockheed Martin jobs in states where we operated. Now, we have moved ahead of California to second, with more than 16,000 jobs in the Sunshine State, including 8,000 people working in the Orlando area for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control and Rotary Mission Systems. And we are continuing to grow.

EW: What is the biggest challenge?

JM: Without a doubt the key to not only Lockheed Martin’s future here, but the whole aerospace industry, is to continue to produce and to recruit a highly skilled workforce, from engineers, to technicians and all the support personnel in between. I’m hopeful that the initiatives, like the Certified Production Technician program, underway through the EDC, our apprenticeship collaborations with Eastern Florida State College, our internship programs with Florida Tech, and our partnership with CareerSource Florida and CareerSource Brevard will contribute to our community’s ability to successfully meet that challenge.

Eric Wright
President of Publishing at | Website

Eric Wright is an innovative leader, dynamic speaker and published author. He turns complex principles into simple and practical life applications. For over 25 years, Eric has taught leadership and management seminars on four continents, served on various economic development and visioning councils, and authored hundreds of published articles and three books.

As President of Publishing at SpaceCoast Magazines, Eric oversees the production of business and lifestyle journals, along with numerous specialty publications. Through these journals, Eric offers entrepreneurs and business leaders a trusted voice connecting communities across Florida and the US.

Eric and his wife, Susan, live in Indialantic, Florida, and have three married sons and four grandchildren.