Market Watch Business Summit Features Space and Tech Leaders

Market Watch Business Summit Features Space and Tech Leaders

Space may be the final frontier for James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise, but it is the future of economic opportunity for planet Earth, and Florida is right at the heart of it.

That was the message at the 6th annual Market Watch Business Summit from the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce and Team Volusia Economic Development Corp. Held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the breakfast meeting featured Paul Sohl, president and CEO at the Florida High-Tech Corridor and Dale Ketchum, vice president of government and external affairs at Space Florida.

Moderated by Peter Mannino, from presenting sponsor Bank of America, the fireside chat format offered Sohl and Ketchum a chance to highlight the challenges and opportunities space industry development and technology presents to Volusia County and the rest of the Sunshine State.

Ketchum said Space Florida is now in its third iteration after first conceived in the late 1990s by state officials.

“At one time we thought we should launch things,” he said. “We are now by far and away the premier state authority for supporting space.”

Ketchum said Space Florida’s footprint extends beyond the launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County and likened its operations to that of an airport or seaport authority for the space industry.

“We’ve got Florida well-positioned to be the center of that universe,” he said.

To harness the talent, investment and infrastructure of high-tech industries, Sohl said partnerships are key.

“Collaboration is really, really important,” he said. “We couldn’t launch what the Space Coast is launching without the logistical tail.”

With the boom in private space industry players, not just in Florida but in other states such as California and Texas, Ketchum said things are getting more competitive.

“We need to be attentive to what other states are doing, and the competition is ruthless,” he said, adding that Texas is creating its own space commission and California is creating and funding partnerships to become a space center.

“We’ve got some serious work to do, however good we’ve done over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “The opportunities are spectacular and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

One of the biggest challenges Sohl and Ketchum said Florida faces is for talent.

“That’s all we hear is talent, talent, talent,” Sohl said. “This is a long-term strategy for Florida.”

Ketchum said while sending spacecraft to the heavens will always be a major piece of the puzzle, the future of the space industry is what happens after the launch.

“The real value of space is going to be what you do in space,” he said. “We’re not just doing it to go off the planet. We’re doing it to make the Earth better.”

Asked about the influence of artificial intelligence in the future economy, Sohl said it is related to the talent acquisition issue.

“Where AI is going is completely changing where (young people) are going,” he said. “If our young people aren’t literate in AI, that gap will continue to grow and we will not be able to gain the businesses we need.”