A couple weeks ago, a reporter from The New York Times was in Brevard interviewing Lynda Weatherman, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.
They talked about many things, but the takeaway was this: Brevard County’s economy is alive and kicking despite the 2011 end of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Beginning Wednesday, Weatherman and other economic and community boosters will be driving home that point as national journalists and site-selection executives from across the United States will be in Brevard for a three-day tour of the Space Coast.
It’s first time the EDC has put on a major tour like this.
Among the scheduled events are visits to major companies like Harris Corp. and Embraer jets, the Kennedy Space Center, a Royal Caribbean ship and a Washington Nationals’ baseball game at Space Coast Stadium.
Plans also include panel discussions on the area’s aviation and aerospace industries and another one on defense.
“We’ve been thinking of doing something like this for a long time,” Weatherman said. “But we think the timing is right to do this because we have a strong story to tell. And we’ve got a good place to showcase.”
This week’s visit comes at a good time.
Earlier this month, Northrop Grumman Corp. announced plans to add more than 1,000 jobs to its Melbourne aviation operation, establishing what the aerospace giant calls a Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence.
That’s on top of major expansions at Harris Corp. in Palm Bay and Embraer jets at Melbourne International Airport.
Also encouraging have been successful rocket launches by SpaceX to take cargo to the the International Space Station.
The backdrop to all that is that only two years have passed since Brevard began adjusting to the loss of the space shuttle program, which eliminated more than 8,000 space industry jobs and nearly twice as many ancillary jobs.
Local officials and agencies like the EDC, Brevard Community College, Brevard Workforce, the Florida Institute of Technology and the University of Central Florida planned well ahead for the shuttle’s retirement and put in place job retraining programs while continually emphasizing to the rest of the world a deep pool of trained aerospace talent in the area.
“I recently talked to a economic development guy south of Brevard and he was saying ‘Those guys are really hurting over there because of the shuttle ending,’ ” said Jeff Cornett, president and chief executive officer of the Pelham, Ala.-based Expansion Solutions, a national business publication aimed at consultants and corporate real estate brokers.
“I told him that it’s just the opposite,” said Cornett, who will be part of this week’s tour. “They’re creating a lot of jobs and millions in capital investments. That, to me, sounds like things are going great. And it’s just beginning for Brevard.”