Support for Post-Shuttle Plans in Florida, Anger in Texas

Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center

Florida Today’s editors believe that two announcements made this week bode well for the Space Coast’s efforts to create jobs in the post-shuttle era:

The first came Monday when a task force recommended to President Obama that companies focusing on aviation, solar power, life sciences and information technology compete for $35 million in federal grants to help replace lost shuttle jobs.

Another $5 million would be given to commercial rocket companies that want to fly from Kennedy Space Center….

The second initiative comes from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who brokered the Senate plan. He has introduced the Commercial Space Jobs and Investment Act that would use tax breaks for space-related businesses to spur post-shuttle job growth.

It calls for creating up to five regional enterprise zones around places such as Kennedy Space Center, where businesses could receive increased tax breaks or tax credits for research, equipment depreciation and education and job training.

The newspaper also backs the Senate version of NASA’s budget, which was brokered by Sen. Nelson.

Meanwhile, down in the heart of Texas, there’s consternation that the Administration has not yet outlined a plan to spend $60 million that will be set aside to deal with job losses in the rest of the country:

“Good for Florida. What about Texas?” asked Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

“I am disappointed that the administration has yet to detail plans of assistance for Texas,” added Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, a lawmaker who has been working behind the scenes to rescue parts of NASA’s back-to-the-moon Constellation program which is crucial to Houston’s Johnson Space Center. “Other cities and states provide essential support and thousands of jobs in local economies tied into NASA.”…

Gene Green, the Houston Democrat with close ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said he would continue working “to make sure that we have parity between Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center in Florida for job retraining funds.”

The Administration has been vague about aid for the rest of the country. The only thing we know for sure is that $15 million out of $60 million would be set aside for job retraining. I’m sure that electoral politics are playing a role here; Obama can win Florida. He’s likely to lose Alabama, Utah and Texas.

I think the Administration should really announce a clear program for other states as soon as possible. That may be a bit difficult because of uncertainty over the budget and how precisely those states will be affected. The faster they can clarify the aid program, the better. It’s hard to live with uncertainty every day.

But, it’s also true that Florida has been much more proactive in planning a post-shuttle future. The state is investing its own money to attract commercial companies and to diversify the economy beyond just providing launch services. It is building a research park at the Cape. Earlier this week, Space Florida’s board voted to invest up to $1 million to support a suborbital reusable launch company.

Space Florida has been revived under the leadership of Frank DiBello. The state agency has a clear plan moving forward, one that has meshed well with the commercial approach being pursued by the Obama Administration. The Florida Legislature has backed the agency’s plan with a significant amount of money.

I think it has probably helped that the Administration has been firm about not extending space shuttle operations beyond next year. As long as there was hope, it was probably hard to plan the future. Once it became clear that this was very unlikely to occur, it was probably a lot easier to move forward.

If Florida can navigate the rough waters ahead, the state could come out of this period stronger than ever. And it will be because the state stepped up to the plate and made an effort to change with the times.

I’m not seeing that sort of initiative in other states. So far, the efforts seem to focus on trying to save Constellation. With that still up in the air, there is uncertainty about how hard other states will be hit.