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October 02, 2020 Business of Space: Florida fights for Space Command

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As Jacksonville looks to grow its presence in space, it's doing so at time when the entire Sunshine State is looking to build on its legacy connected to the stars.

Among the prizes Florida is looking to win: the headquarters of the new Space Command, the combatant command that will oversee operations in space conducted by ther personnel in the Space Force.

Jacksonville is one of eight Florida municipalities to make the military's first cut of areas vying to become home of the Space Force command headquarters.

The headquarters would bring 1,400 military and civilian jobs to the area and could help attract more military and aerospace businesses.

Other communities in Florida that made the cut include Tampa, Pinellas County, Pensacola, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, Seminole County and Brevard County where the Space Coast is located, according to Space Florida VP Government and External Relations Dale Ketcham. That list includes all of the Florida cities supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Ketcham said that by throwing its hat in the ring, Jacksonville has demonstrated its capabilities to the rest of the state. 

“What we’re anxious to do is to make sure that Florida is well-positioned to capture as much of that new work as possible,” Ketcham said.

Jacksonville’s burgeoning aerospace industry has much of the existing infrastructure necessary to support such operations. Cecil Spaceport, the Made in Space headquarters, Northrup Grumman operations and Mayo Clinic’s work have created an ecosystem of commercial aerospace companies that is likely to grow.

“They’ve got a lot to offer so they’re in the fight,” Ketcham said.

That said, there are some 50 municipalities who made the first cut, with cities in New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Texas and Missouri all on the list, as well as others. 

To be a finalist for the Space Command, cities had to be in one of the 150 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States, having a military base within 25 miles and having a score greater than 50 on the Livability Index published in 2018 by the American Association of Retired Persons’ Public Policy Institute. (Jacksonville's score is 53, the average for the known contenders.)

Florida’s two U.S. senators — Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — and all 27 members of its delegation in the U.S. House reportedly sent a letter to Henderson to encourage the Air Force to put the command center in the state, which is currently home to three combatant commands — U.S. Special Operations Command, Central Command, and Southern Command.

The Navy component of Southern Command, known as the 4th Fleet, is based at Mayport Naval Station.

A final decision on the Space Command headquarters is expected to be made in 2021.

No matter where the Space Command headquarters end up, Ketcham says that the commercial space and defense industries will be integral to the robust growth of Florida’s economy. It’s particularly important because it involves high-skilled and high wage jobs and it’s proven to be resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic, even as so many other sectors have fallen flat.

“We’ve continued to bring in new projects, such as the world’s first supersonic business jet manufacturing facility in Melbourne and further consolidation to bring strength and capability — like what happened with Made in Space and RedWire,” Ketcham said.

He added that he thinks it’s safe to assume that state will make further investments as Florida works its way through recovery. He emphasized that investments in the space industry could help the state overall, as it continues to revive.

Article written by Ellen Schneider

Jacksonville Business Journal