The Space Coast of Florida: Innovating, On the Front Lines of Change
By Denise Beasley
The Space Coast is ready for resurgence, after working through the first several layers of challenging transitions in the workforce due to the ending of the Space Shuttle program, the manned launch portion of the U.S. Space program. In the aftermath, the county of Brevard is seeing very interesting growth, particularly in aviation/avionics and in communications, info tech and advanced manufacturing.
This is an area of Florida accustomed to nurturing technology innovation and a culture that welcomes entrepreneurs.
Some of the aerospace jobs have wound down, but there is new energy supported by the early successes of private aerospace company, SpaceX, led by entrepreneurial leader Elon Musk. Its Dragon Crew Module successfully performed stringent maneuvers and systems checks before it was allowed to dock at the station, complete its mission and return to Earth and a soft landing of the reusable spacecraft. With the launching of Dragon to the International Space Station, a new era of commercial space travel has been launched as well.
Here on the Space Coast, the rigors of start-up are a match for the up-by-the-bootstraps mentality of the high-tech, hands-on workforce that remains here. These aerospace workers are veterans of the quality and safety traditions that built a manned space program. They have been instrumental in creating a nearly flawless launch record for Atlas and Delta (commercial, civil and military payloads) and are now witnessing the amazing gains by private-sector aerospace innovators.
The area has plum companies expanding or relocating here, including Brazilian personal jet manufacturer Embraer, and aviation support companies such as AAR Airlift, Professional Aircraft Accessories and Midair USA. Harris Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, has reaffirmed its commitment to the area by creating a $100 million high-tech center that will become the centerpiece of some of the company’s most advance engineering efforts.
The way the economy's transition is being faced on the Space Coast resembles the way the area has developed, on the backs and brains of a cross-section of forward-thinking, forward-driving people—many of whom are naturally very reluctant to leave this kind of can-do environment.
This workforce possesses a fine intertwining of the skills needed to be a rebel on the front lines of change while maintaining a precise hold on all aspects of forward process. This has always been a place where millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs and many lives were on the line daily—where critical decision-making under severe demands were the norm up and down the hierarchical chain and across multiple agencies and contractors.
What has occurred therefore is a build-up of entrepreneurial support forces unlike anything seen in former times. At the forefront is the Brevard Workforce Biz Launch team, led by Jan Conrad. Biz Launch is an entrepreneurs’ networking and skill-building group, with many participants who were formally employed at Kennedy Space Center.
"What we've seen in Brevard Workforce's Biz Launch has far surpassed our original expectations—the numbers, the caliber and the tenaciousness of the participants," says Jan Conrad, Brevard Workforce Director of Community Resources. "The stacking of talent in a room at one of our networking events is near staggering and the energy is palpable. The shared knowledge is key; and we are seeing business startups across a broad range of ideas and scope."
“There is nothing better than getting your feet wet along with other people who have the same questions that you have,” said participant Fred Harvey, “when you want to get answers on how to start a business.”
Sessions have been full nearly from the start, with 50-60 hopeful entrepreneurs regularly in attendance each session. The sessions are so booked in fact that a second group was formed, with full attendance almost immediately upon announcement. As a networking and skill-building group, the topics covered range from branding, protecting intellectual property, marketing through YouTube and navigating the governmental requirements such as zoning and business licensing.
“We can’t look in just one direction when we job hunt like we did ten years ago,” said William Bender, a Biz Launch participant who worked at Kennedy Space Center for 25 years, “Biz Launch gives us an opportunity to explore other ideas and other options.”
Biz Launch has attracted positive attention and celebrity guests including former professional football player, TV personality, and computer software executive Fran Tarkenton, and entrepreneurial business leader Ed Scott, co-founder of BEA Systems, Inc.
“I’d like to say how impressed I am,” Scott said, “with what Brevard Workforce and the Biz Launch initiative are doing to try to encourage small businesses and business creation in Brevard County. I think it’s a terrific thing and very much needed.”
Spinoffs and technology transfers have always been strong in Brevard in the shadow of such giants as NASA and Harris Corporation, but this new phase has all of that and more. “Biz Launch is a bright idea at the right time, nurtured by strong workforce professionals. And now we are seeing spinoffs, such as Spacecoast Technical Network (STN), aerospace-focused entrepreneurs taking the innovative Biz Launch model and innovating further,” said Brevard Workforce president, Lisa Rice. “The North to Central section of Brevard County represents the areas most affected by Kennedy Space Center layoffs and this is where STN is based. It provides fast-paced learning opportunities for would-be businesses, supporting entrepreneurs where it counts—in the pre-planning, skills-capture and new-business launch cycles. Add the shared intel and you have a powerful force for growth and change.”
The STN group acts as a Job Club, brokering information and connecting members to experts at the workforce agency (Brevard Workforce) that introduced this concept to the Space Coast.
“Nothing spells success like success,” according to Glenn Andersen, Executive Director of Spacecoast Technical Network. “So that’s what we’re trying to leverage and help people along the way. We think that small business is the key to growing the economy in this area.”
The STN has expanded its outreach, connecting to UCF in Orlando. Not coincidentally, UCF has facilities along the coast, where the STN and parent groups of Biz Launch live and breathe.
Amid transitions in the space industry, and recovery from the recession, the Biz Launch network at Brevard Workforce—utilizing diverse experts to fill in information and experience gaps —has seen participants thrive. In a short ten month period, more than 10 businesses have launched, a second Biz Launch group started and the pro-active Space Technical Network spinoff was born. People on the Space Coast are—once again—looking up.
Brevard Workforce is the area authority on workforce development, providing comprehensive services, labor market information and access to resources for businesses and job seekers. Visit www.brevardworkforce.com or call 504-7600 toll-free in Brevard for more information about our services and resources.
New Business Starts
- Fred’s Auto Butler Mobile Detailing Services
- Atlantic Coast Forklift Sales
- Rich Innovations
- Casual Collector Home Inventory Professionals, Inc
- PaddleStyle – What’s Your?
- Malabar GunleatherJoe Hill & Associates
- Oasis Tropical Fish Farm
- Space Coast Aviation Services
- Clif’s Crafts
- Advantage Business Consulting
- Bellartisan, Inc.
- The Message Collection
- Little Angels Daycare
- Wheatless Wonders
- Marsh Kirkwood Senior Assistance+
- Sassy Green Cuisine
Businesses launched cover the gamut of specialty service businesses (both technical and professional) to products for both commercial use and personal consumption.