by Paolo von Schirach
May 3, 2011
WASHINGTON – What will happen to the vast talent pool assembled along the Florida “Space Coast”, after the closing down of the NASA sponsored Space Shuttle Program later this Summer? This long stretch of Atlantic coastline, encompassing large areas adjoining the Kennedy Space Center, is home to thousands of space engineers who started moving there as the US space program developed.
Marketing by local development agencies
Local economic development institutions are trying hard to attract new business, targeting sophisticated aero space corporations. They let them know about the unusually large cluster of talented space engineers and other very qualified specialists residing there because of the proximity to NASA and the employment originating from various generations of space program, the Shuttle being the latest.
Will they succeed in achieving their own version of a soft landing by seamlessly reinventing the Space Coast, replacing government funded projects with private sector employers? This is a huge challenge.
Upbeat press releases
Press releases in the Brevard County Economic Development Commission website look promising. New business is coming from Lockheed Martin, Executive Wings, Sanswire Corporation and others setting up shop there. The question is whether this will happen fast enough to generate jobs for the thousands of soon to be unemployed NASA space scientists. The Economic Development Commission marketing is strong and convincing.
Best place for high tech?
“More than just sunshine and white sandy beaches, Florida’s Space Coast is home to several rapidly expanding industries. Our bustling economy features cutting edge communications, electronics, aerospace, advanced security and emerging technologies. This array of industries fuels the local economy and draws qualified employees to our region.
The engineering and technical talents offered here make opportunities limitless. Florida’s Space Coast has the most concentrated high-tech economy in the state of Florida and the 16th most concentrated in the nation.
Home of Kennedy Space Center and America’s Space Programs – Florida’s High-Tech Titan is the ideal location to launch relocation and/or expansion projects.
Brevard County’s past, present and future leaves the area ideally placed to accommodate innovative companies seeking a highly skilled workforce.The birth of the nation’s Space Program in the 1950s served as a catalyst in the attraction of the very best talent to Brevard County, working first at Cape Canaveral and then at related companies which sprung up around Kennedy Space Center. The area continues to witness an influx of high-tech companies looking to harness this very special talent”.
It may be late
Of course, what the web site does not really say is that, unless something happens rather fast, after the end of the Shuttle Program coming along pretty soon, this cluster of valuable talent will continue disintegrating, as people are already forced to go elsewhere, in pursuit of different employment. 2,700 space program employees are already gone from Brevard County. Sold houses are empty, depressing the real estate market.
Therefore the new employers better hurry up, if they want to capture this extremely valuable human capital bounty. Once it’s gone, it cannot be re-created at will. And this would be a major loss, as highly qualified human capital is probably the most precious asset for any business. In fact, lack of talented specialists on site is quite often the major impediment in efforts aimed at attracting high technology companies to any given location.
Ironically, the Space Coast has the talent, but it needs many more investors willing to come and hire. And let us keep in mind that disbanding all these engineers and scientists formerly employed by NASA is not just a loss for Brevard County, it is a national loss. Among them there are teams of innovators capable of conquering new territory.
Space Coast because of Government spending
The genesis of Florida Space Coast is an illustrative example of the positive impact of US Government spending in breeding knowledge centers and science pools that could not possibly have been created by the private sector, as no group of private corporations had the resources and the staying power to design and deliver a large space program –starting from scratch in the late 1950s. This gigantic federally funded enterprise, whatever its flaws, fostered the creation of new technologies and the creation of knowledge clusters that have no real equivalent in the private sector. But the private sector could take advantage of the spill overs, the innovations and technologies developed through NASA funding. In this sense, public capital enabled and supported private enterprises.
What next for NASA?
Now that the Shuttle Program is about to end, people close to NASA are not at all optimistic about the future. There is no large new program on the horizon. The Obama administration is trying to privatize space launches by contracting out to private companies. This may be possible, to a degree. But it is hard to believe that private capital will be able to replace or credibly sustain NASA, thus absorbing the man power in the area.
Endeavor launch postponed, a bad “sign”?
May be it is just bad luck, or perhaps it is a “sign” of the new lean era that a symbolic, “almost last” Shuttle Endeavor launch (the very last one will be later this Summer) scheduled for April 29 had to be postponed due to persistent technical malfunctions. The upcoming mission is high profile because it is headed by Mark Kelly, the husband of wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She made the special effort to leave her rehabilitation therapy to attend the launch. (She was shot by an insane young man while having a meeting with constituents a few months ago). President Obama was also supposed to attend, a rare event for a sitting President. Because of all this publicity, huge crowds had descended all around the Kennedy Space Center on the Florida Coast. Well, no shuttle launch, no President, no crowds, no festivities. The send off will have to wait a few more days. Another let down, it seems, for a program about to shut down.
In the meantime, more space engineers residing in Brevard County will pack and go away, looking for jobs elsewhere. They leave behind empty homes, a vastly diminished NASA Space Program and a shrunken talent pool. Pity for them and pity for America.Print This Post