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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida's bright future in space industry

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen after being raised into a vertical position on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-1 mission, Feb. 28, 2019 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA/Joel Kowsky.
Published Mar. 15

Few industries have such an iconic history in Florida as space travel - and few places are as prepared to capitalize on this new era in space. As the U.S. plans missions to the moon and beyond, and as private industry takes on a larger role in space, this state is well-positioned to grow into a worldwide aerospace hub. Florida has launch pads, talent and critical mass in the market - and now it needs a laser focus on the possibilities and strong support in Tallahassee.

Florida's potential has become increasingly clear as the nation reaffirms its mission in space and as technological breakthroughs in the aerospace sector have become more incorporated into every day life. Space Florida, the entity the Legislature created to grow Florida's place in the industry, continues to attract new employers and revitalize the market, generating thousands of high-wage jobs and tens of billions of dollars of economic activity. The next step is to more closely align the industry in Florida with NASA's mission, the nation's security and global consumer needs to make the Sunshine State the unrivaled global space port.

President Donald Trump helped build on that momentum with the 2020 budget for NASA he proposed on Monday. It includes $600 million for an outpost above the moon and $363 million to begin development of landers to take astronauts back to the lunar surface. It also envisions a robust role for the private sector in assisting NASA to expand its human exploration capabilities. That policy is in sync with Florida's efforts to modernize its infrastructure and grow the aerospace industry. And it highlights the potential for Florida well beyond supporting NASA or manned mission flights.

Frank DiBello, Space Florida's president and chief executive, told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board this week that Florida's favorable tax climate and competitive labor market have helped create an attractive environment for manufacturers. Physical improvements to launch facilities on the east coast, a stronger supply chain and financing assistance to the industry have helped position Florida as a global aerospace leader. The number of government or commercial launches in Florida could increase four-fold over the next year, to about 35 annually, even as private companies develop new manned crew vehicles. The challenge is to maintain this progress by addressing gaps in workforce training or state development efforts that undermine corporate investment, relocation and innovation.

DiBello points to several encouraging signs. Gov. Ron DeSantis has struck a welcome tone of collaboration with legislative leaders. That should help Florida better align its aerospace priorities and speak with a single voice. He also named Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez as chair of Space Florida's board, signaling the profile the agency will have in the Capitol. That should give the private sector more confidence.

DiBello offers other solid ideas for amplifying Florida's role in space, from creating an institute for advanced mechanical learning to strengthening relationships between employers, higher education and job training institutions. The Trump administration's proposal to create a new Space Command within the Department of Defense also creates a new opportunity for Florida, given the state's natural fit to host a military unit charged with protecting American satellites and other space-borne assets. MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa should be a prime contender to host the command.

Florida and the space industry have a long history of working well together, and a shared interest in continuing to advance this nation's finest ambitions.

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