by Frank DiBello, Space Florida President & CEO
For much of the history of the U.S. Space Program, Volusia County has had a front-row seat. But it always seemed more of a spectator than ‘a player.’ Granted, a great many shuttle workers at the Cape lived here, but the economic benefits of that significant federal investment only trickled north. But today the U.S. Space Program is much more about the emergence of the commercial space marketplace than one with the federal government as its only customer. That transformation is rich with promise, not only for the nation, but for Volusia County as well.
This market is growing rapidly with the only variable being the speed at which it does so. The expansion of human activity into space is both inevitable and an imperative. As Americans, we are driven to explore for both science and profit. But we are not alone in this pursuit. Russia has been up there longer than we. China, with all its talent and resources, is making a major move and already is doing things we have not. India is in orbit around Mars and the UAE has a spacecraft on its way there now. The U.S. cannot afford to cede the high ground for national security purposes, and we will not abandon the field and let other nations make the rules and set the standards in an environment where the resources and energy are limitless. Future generations expect no less
How will Volusia County compete now? With geography, opportunity and leadership.
The Cape and its economic activity have grown considerably in Brevard County. There is still room, but more will be needed as the Cape Canaveral Spaceport evolves into a primary port of departure and entry for human activity in space over the next decades. That growth must be managed with the appropriate protections for the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore. Our efforts to explore new frontiers does not exempt us from our stewardship responsibilities right here where we live. Those environmental treasures will become ever more important in assuring the quality of life so essential to attracting and retaining the young skilled talent that will drive this new marketplace well into the future.
With the intriguing potential future of human enterprise in Low Earth Orbit, then CisLunar, then Mars and beyond, Volusia County is on the logical path for smart economic development which most communities can only dream of. The geography has been there, the opportunity is beginning to unfold before us. What is needed now to seal the deal for the next generation, is the right leadership.
Here too fortune has smiled on Volusia County’s future.
Starting in Washington, Congressman Mike Waltz serves on the Committees overseeing both the military and NASA in the House. While Senator Rick Scott serves on the Senate’s committee for Armed Services and the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. Senator Marco Rubio serves on what is often the most important position, the Senate Appropriations Committee. Collectively, each has shown great interest and support in helping craft a key role for Volusia County in the continuing national effort of assuring US leadership in space. Here again, geography works to Volusia County’s advantage. As the eastern anchor of the all-important I-4 High Tech Corridor of Florida, where voters decide who will capture Florida’s 29 Electoral College votes for President, Volusia County is well placed to receive favorable treatment on space policy from any Administration in the White House, regardless of which party is in charge.
At the state level, Senator Tom Wright, leader of the Space Caucus and Chair of the Committee responsible for Florida’s engagement in growing the commercial space market, leads a delegation that has been relentless and aggressive in promoting a Volusia County that competes in this grand game. Tallahassee has worked to position Florida as a leader for a generation. Now, with the shuttle retirement a distant memory, Florida is achieving success.
Finally, at the local level the leadership in Volusia County has been remarkable. The county is large and diverse, but the collaboration between the Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation, the CEO Business Alliance, the Chambers of Commerce, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Volusia County’s Economic Development Division and Daytona State College, as well as other essential stakeholders, has allowed for the delivery of consistent professional presentations. Together, all these pieces epitomize a county that is poised to prosper now and well into the future.
Frank DiBello, Space Florida President and CEO, was selected in May 2009 to lead Space Florida, which is the principal state agency for aerospace-related economic development, and the Space Authority for the State of Florida. In his position, he develops and executes programs designed to attract, retain and grow aerospace business across the state.