At a roundtable meeting of space industry leaders Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist promised to support a $3.2 million request from the Brevard legislative delegation to help Brevard Workforce retrain aerospace workers.
The governor also announced a Space Summit in Brevard County on Feb. 18, which is before the next legislative session begins in March.
"The commitment has never been stronger," Crist said, as he met with the Brevard County space industry on his way to a campaign stop in Viera. He promised to support the $3.2 million appropriation in an interview with FLORIDA TODAY after the meeting.
Crist, a moderate conservative, is running for the U.S. Senate and faces stiff opposition from the deeply conservative wing of the Republican party.
About 50 public officials and space industry representatives waited to meet with the governor at the Canaveral Port Authority office building. Crist showed up 30 minutes late, after he was delayed while seeing off a group of Florida National Guardsmen bound for the Middle East from Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City.
Attending were U.S. Reps. Bill Posey, a Republican, and Suzanne Kosmas, a Democrat, who are working to secure more than $1 million in federal funds to retrain space industry workers in Brevard.
Officials from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Space Alliance, SpaceX and Brevard Workforce attended. Elected officials included state representatives and senators, as well as county officials and city officers. Space Florida Director Frank DiBello led the roundtable of executives who are desperate for a lifeline as the shuttle program ends and NASA has no clear vision for space exploration.
Some 7,000 jobs will be lost when the shuttle is mothballed, and some sources project Brevard’s unemployment rate could climb near 15 percent while the rest of the nation enjoys an economic recovery.
"We're at a tipping point," Dale Ketcham, director of the Spaceport Research & Technology Institute, said, echoing pleas to repurpose Brevard’s space workforce and to invest in new businesses. "We need money on the table to make it happen."
Boeing is among the companies that will lay off hundreds of employees when the shuttle stops flying. Boeing executive Kevin Hoshstrasser said the company is working to find new opportunities to keep its Florida operations going and needs help.
"We're asking the state to make Florida the place to do business," he said. "We're aggressively trying to move work to Florida."
Inaction on the state's behalf could slow Brevard's recovery after the next phase of the space exploration is announced soon by President Obama.
"Here we are repeating (the Apollo era layoffs) and maybe a little worse," United Space Alliance Vice President Mark Nappi told the governor. With no jobs to follow the shuttle shutdown, highly skilled space industry workers could disperse.
"The last thing we want is to go through a gap where these skilled workers go someplace else," Nappi said.