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Pain Relief: Northrop Grumman is expanding in Melbourne

Brevard County’s pain from the shutdown of the NASA space shuttle program is getting a significant dose of relief from Northrop Grumman. The defense and technology giant is planning a major expansion at Melbourne International Airport that might bring more than 900 jobs to the county.

The company says it will open a Manned Aircraft Design Center of Excellence, one of five new centers to open nationwide. St. Augustine also will get one, the only other Florida location selected. But the Brevard facility will be the larger of the two, and when it is up and running within the next two years, it could nearly double the company’s existing Space Coast workforce.

Northrop’s planned expansion comes just as additional layoffs in recent weeks trimmed staffing at United Space Alliance by another 600-plus, leaving fewer than 150 local workers for the former shuttle operator as it phases out operations. During the peak of the program, United Space employed more than 6,000 at Kennedy Space Center as the lead contract agency for shuttle missions. Sea Ray Boats also delivered bad news recently, announcing it would close its Merritt Island manufacturing plant, a loss of another 200 jobs.

Northrop’s expansion in Brevard comes as the company reduces staffing in other states facing cuts in military spending.

Lynda Weatherman, CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, says Northrop’s decision to grow in Brevard even as it consolidates elsewhere is “a vote of confidence in our county, by expanding its presence here in such a substantial and lasting way.”