by David Castagnacci
The nation’s most active spaceport at Cape Canaveral is just one county south, launching lucrative opportunities for Volusia industries to expand into the aerospace market – and become a part of the global space economy, now exceeding $423 billion.
This momentum also provides an important supporting role for Daytona’s forward-thinking educational institutions – offering outlets for space-related research and technology, educating top-tier engineers, and teaching our future workforce numerous skills for the trades that support space-related industries.
“Volusia County, the northern gateway to Florida’s Space Triangle, is well-positioned to support the space economy on a larger scale,” comments Dr. P. Barry Butler, president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), a leader in aerospace research and technology – with seven astronauts as alumni. He cites that conclusion from a recent report by Bryce Space & Technology that sets a path for aerospace opportunities in this central Florida Space Triangle.
ERAU’s 92-acre research park is in the forefront of Volusia’s technology progress. Just 3 ½ years old, the center has become a fast-growing success story, already boasting 18 space-related and other ‘startup’ companies developing their innovative technology into state-of-the-art products and services – as well serving as a resource for student interns to gain valuable experience in their future careers.
The futuristic-looking John Mica Engineering & Aerospace Innovation Complex – commonly called MicaPlex — is the park’s cornerstone building. Named after the former U.S. congressman, the MicaPlex building houses most of the entrepreneurial companies that have sprouted from the research park, which also includes a 14,000 square foot wind tunnel facility and the Eagle Flight Research Center, equipped to conduct a variety of flight-related projects. There also is the remaining open acreage for future development east and west of Clyde Morris Boulevard.
The park has generated more than $90 million in economic impact in Florida and directly or indirectly created 500 jobs, many of which are high-wage, notes a recent study by the independent Washington Economics Group (WEG).
As another major boost to Volusia’s progress in space-related jobs education, Daytona State College (DSC) students are gaining first-hand experience with the mechanics and automation leading to degrees in engineering technology. DSC’s impressive Advanced Technology College (ATC) on Williamson Boulevard also provides training in a variety of skills and trades that are needed to support space-related companies – welding, machining, air conditioning and heating, automotive services and even building and construction. There is a major continuing need for these services within the space coast industries, explains Frank Snyder, director of DSC’s School of Workforce Development. “Every student who comes out of our program can find a job if they want it,” he says.
DSC leaders are especially proud of the Advanced Manufacturing Center at the ATC campus. Featured are high-tech educational robots (models of those used in the manufacturing world), automation and 3D printing machines – and mechatronics modules simulating a manufacturing plant. “When you think of all the industries this technology applies to, it’s limitless,” Snyder comments.
Each component of the automation manufacturing room can work independently or in conjunction with each other. Only 1 ½ years old, the educators keep testing the equipment so the students can become fully capable of programming the robots to operate with the automated modules.
The college “is very actively involved in the Florida high tech corridor and we are part of a consortium with Eastern Florida State College (Brevard County) that helped us develop our advanced welding, mechatronics and industrial maintenance offerings” comments Dante Leon, associate vice president of DSC’s College of Engineering and Technology.
ERAU and Daytona State College are another part of the engine for Volusia’s workforce and economic development.
Keith Norden, president and CEO of Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation, praises the benefits of ERAU’s research park to “recruit new businesses to Volusia County and to advance entrepreneurship.”
As an example, ERAU President Butler cites Reamonn Soto, an ERAU graduate, who developed his Sensatek Propulsion Technology business within the park. The company has secured nearly $1.5 million in seed funds, including a $743,200 National Science Foundation grant, and created a half-dozen high quality jobs. Butler notes similar research park success stories of ERAU alumni-based companies GRD Biomechanics, developer of a unique orthopedic knee brace, and drone manufacturer Censys Technologies Corporation. The Modularity Space company is working to develop technology that will make satellite systems more reusable.
The research park’s entrepreneurs have brought in more than $27 million for their ideas since spring 2017, according to a report by Ginger Pinholster, ERAU’s associate vice president of News & Research Communications. “In that time, the research park has brought in 18 companies, providing 71 full-time jobs offering an annual salary of more than $80,000 per year while generating 35 patents, copyrights or trademarks,” she emphasizes.
As an international leader in aviation and aerospace-related education, the university offers advanced degrees ranging from aerospace and aeronautical engineering to commercial flight operations and aviation maintenance. “As the aerospace and defense industry continues to grow in Florida, Embry-Riddle is training the talent that workforce needs,” ERAU President Butler notes. “Our fundamental goals are to expand job opportunities and enhance the quality of life for Floridians,” he comments.
Collaboration with local governments and associated private industries is another component of the higher learning centers’ research and technology programs.
Daytona State College particularly works to tailor educational programs to fit the needs of area industries and this involves coordination with local businesses and economic development groups, largely through Industry Advisory Committees, explains Dante Leon. “We listen to our industry partners, learn about trends and emerging fields and make curriculum updates as needed,” he says. Frank Snyder adds that the ATC’s “machining program has successfully placed students in both cooperative learning and full time scenarios with space related industries. Our advanced welding program is training students for industry certifications that are required of welders working in space related industries.”
Explaining that DSC educational programs are geared to support the space industry, Leon says the skills and trades programs lead to employment in high skill / high wage occupations with a mean wage of $23.72 per hour, “which compares favorably with other occupations in our two-county area,” he says.
Daytona State College’s Advanced Technical College has three apprenticeship programs in electricity and pipefitting. “Two of these programs are actively working on projects at the space coast,” notes Leon. “The skillsets learned by these apprentices are honed by the requirements of working on federally funded and high security projects.”
And regarding the ERAU research park’s internship opportunities, Butler says the park “provides students with real-world learning experiences, setting them up to become leaders and innovators in the future. It’s a win-win.”
David Castagnacci worked at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce for 31 years where he served as Executive Director of the Volusia County Association for Responsible Development (VCARD), a non-profit association of planning and development professionals. Prior to that, he was a news reporter and New Smyrna Beach Bureau Chief for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.