Business Florida 2021 - The Regions
Brevard • Lake • Orange • Osceola • Seminole • Sumter • Volusia
The Only Place You Need to Be
Choosing the right site for a new business or relocating an existing one is rarely a quick or easy process. Unless you’re Tom Vice — chairman, president and CEO of Aerion Supersonic – and the company you intend to relocate is focused on the business of high-speed flight. If that is your story, then Florida’s Space Coast is the only place you need to be.
On April 24, 2020, even as the coronavirus epidemic was ramping up across the nation, Reno, Nevada-based Aerion Supersonic announced plans to relocate and build a state-of-the-art campus, called Aerion Park, in Melbourne. Its purpose? To serve as corporate headquarters and manufacturing site for the company’s new AS2 Supersonic Business Jet that can fly at speeds of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Slated for completion by 2026, this $300-million investment is expected to generate at least 675 jobs in Florida by opening day.
Aerion Supersonic will relocate from Reno to Melbourne and form a new global headquarters and integrated campus for the research, design, creation and maintenance of the world’s first privately built supersonic aircraft.
“This is the hub of aircraft development,” says Vice, noting that all of Aerion’s manufacturing will take place in Melbourne, “and for that, I need workers with a very specific skill set — applied scientists who can conduct research into new propulsion systems, for example — and I can find them here.”
Vice has reason to be uber-positive about Melbourne because he and his company already have a history of success in this part of Florida. As a supplier to two of Northrop Grumman’s Florida-based Centers of Excellence — the Aircraft Integration Center in St. Augustine and the Manned Aircraft Design Center in Melbourne — Vice has spent a significant amount of time working along the Space Coast over the past 10 years and he has strong ties here. His kids attended Brevard County schools, he served on the board of governors at Melbourne-based Florida Institute of Technology and he owns a home in Satellite Beach. For Vice, relocating his business to the grounds of Melbourne International Airport doesn’t have the feel of a transcontinental move. “It’s more like coming home,” he says.
Space Florida, the state’s official aerospace economic development organization, had a role to play in Vice’s relocation decision too. The agency was created to strengthen Florida’s position in aerospace research, investment, exploration and commerce. Says Vice, “I can’t overstate the importance of Space Florida. It has served this state and my company well with new ways of thinking and emphasis on long-term trends. I don’t know of any other state that provides that kind of support.”
Between now and when Aerion Park is fully up and running in five years, Vice will continue to concentrate on his firm’s primary mission — manufacturing the world’s first privately built supersonic aircraft. And he couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of building supersonic jets — or what he calls “the next generation of global transportation networks” for ultra-high net worth individuals, corporations and heads of state.
Vice is passionate about supersonic air travel. “We fly today on business aircraft that was designed and created 59 years ago,” he says. “It’s time for a change.” Vice’s immediate goal is to build aircraft capable of reaching any two places in the world within three hours. And his AS2 supersonic jet is just the beginning of a long series of supersonic aircraft he intends to build in Melbourne; the even faster AS3 is already on the drawing board.
From the place where he watched Americans go up into space and where human exploration of Mars has its origins, Vice is focused on the future. “This is where aerospace lives,” he says, “and that makes this part of the world the only place we could locate Aerion. There’s just no other place we could be.”
Tourism has long been a prominent driver of East Central Florida’s economy, but never more so than in 2018. That year, Orlando logged its first ever 75 million visitors for a total estimated economic impact of $75.2 billion. The big three names in theme parks — Disney, Universal and SeaWorld — were launching new attractions, and prominent hotel properties across the region were adding guest rooms and amenities. In 2019, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom alone topped worldwide theme park attendance at 20.96 million visitors. Orlando was on a roll. Until it wasn’t.
When coronavirus came to town in March 2020, one by one, every tourist attraction and most hotels were forced to close their doors. The good news, however, is that Disney, Universal and SeaWorld have since reopened, albeit with limited attendance (reservations mandatory), enhanced sanitation measures, physical distancing and masks required. At every park, most of the attractions that were operating prior to the pandemic have reopened; many of those that were under construction and/or scheduled to open for the first time in spring or summer 2020 have been delayed. A fourth theme park planned for Universal Orlando Resort and announced in fall 2019 is still a go, but not surprisingly, it’s delayed. Originally slated for completion in 2023, Epic Universe is now expected to open in 2024.
Beyond Orlando, which typically gets the bulk of tourist attention, some uniquely Florida attractions along this region’s Atlantic coast are open to visitors too. At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Brevard County, all main attractions, including the IMAX Theater, Shuttle Launch Experience and Universe Theater, have reopened with shorter hours and limited capacities to allow for social distancing.
And just up the coast in Volusia County is another tourist draw: Daytona Beach. Attractions include the iconic beach itself, on which limited numbers of cars can still drive each day in specified areas for a fee; beachgoers on foot are encouraged to limit gatherings to 10 individuals and to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible. Daytona International Speedway, famous for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 500 races, is open on race days to a limited number of spectators; face masks are mandatory and grandstand seats are assigned to ensure social distancing.
KEY PLAYERS: SeaWorld Orlando; Universal Orlando; Walt Disney World, Orlando