Economic yearbook 2011
melbourne / titusville / brevard County
With a 100,000-sq.-ft. building on five acres in hand and a renowned Solar Energy Center under its wing, the University of Central Florida is making a strong pitch for a $50-million federal grant to create a solar photovoltaic development center in Brevard County.
UCF and a group of business and local leaders are working with Sematech, a consortium of high-tech companies that helped make Austin, Texas, a leading center for the semiconductor industry in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the central Florida group hopes Sematech will help do the same for Brevard and nearby counties as Sematech creates a center for photovoltaics, funded in part by the Department of Energy, which is hoping to find cheaper ways of producing solar energy. The central Florida consortium made the final cut for the grant in January, and a decision could come at any time.
If central Florida wins, it could bring 300 jobs to Palm Bay within two years and thousands more to the region as far west as Winter Springs and Seminole County — jobs badly needed to replace those being lost to NASA cutbacks on the Space Coast. Intersil Corp., which manufactures semiconductor wafers in Palm Bay, donated one of its buildings to UCF last spring after it consolidated operations. The facility, originally built by Harris Semiconductor in 1977, would become the headquarters for the photovoltaic center.
Meanwhile, Space Florida, the state's lead agency promoting the industry, is focusing hard on diversifying the sector to attract jobs and buffer against large swings in employment as space shuttle missions end. Space Florida President Frank DiBello's Vision 2020 plan targets aviation, defense and high tech, along with commercial space development. DiBello says Bigelow Aerospace, a Nevada company working to launch commercial "space stations" by 2015, is an example of the entrepreneurial outfits Brevard needs to attract. Space Florida and Bigelow signed an agreement in February to develop an exhibit with scale models of modules the company plans to place into orbit. But company President Robert Bigelow is looking for millions of dollars in incentives to build a space-station production plant that might employ as many as 2,000. Florida could be outbid, he says.
Stepping up to the Plate
ROOKIE PLAYER: Sanswire Corp. — The maker of unmanned, dirigible-type vehicles used for surveillance and reconnaissance has moved from Maryland to Kennedy Space Center, the beginning of what Space Florida hopes will be a cluster of such operations.
HEAVY HITTER: Lockheed Martin — The defense contractor is expanding its Aerostat operations in West Melbourne, to supplement Aerostat's work at Cape Canaveral and create up to 100 jobs paying an average of $42,000 a year.
HEAVY HITTER: Space Florida — The state's lead agency promoting the industry is developing logistics to launch Minotaur rockets from the cape, under a U.S. Air Force contract awarded in January worth up to $48 million. "We have the tools to work with," DiBello says, including $31 million in state funding, a long list of companies to woo and projects to pursue. On paper, they could easily replace the estimated 9,000 jobs to be lost as a result of NASA cutbacks. But the region will go through a "traumatic" transition, he warns. "Trouble is, no one company hires 3,000 on day one. It takes time."