The United States serves as a global leader of the aerospace industry, and Space Florida, led by President and CEO Frank DiBello, is working to position the Sunshine State as the calling card for the effort.
Touting the Space Coast Triangle – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, and their proximity to Cape Canaveral, one of three licensed launch sites in the state of Florida, DiBello and the Space Florida team have been successful in attracting some of the biggest names and cutting edge technology to the state.
With more than 40 years in the aerospace industry, DiBello’s depth of expertise has paved the way to actively building relationships while attending international air and space shows, in addition to engaging C-Suite decision makers on a monthly basis.
“Actually a number of our leads have come from some of those shows or dialogue that we’ve had attending a conference or show, and it’s a part of what we do. We also do direct reach out. The goal is to talk about their strategy for growth and in the course of dialogue I relay what Florida can do to help them achieve their goals,” said DiBello.
“We began talking to Jeff Bezos’ company six or seven years ago. They did a multi-state site selection process to decide where they wanted to build their space systems and they selected Florida,” he said.
“They’re now building their next generation rockets right here in Florida near the Cape. When I looked at what he was planning, we really had a number of attributes that were important for him. The state has a very attractive ecosystem for the aerospace industry.”
DiBello credits Florida’s friendly regulatory and tax environment, high quality education system, housing and quality of life with being part of the ecosystem that supports aerospace industry growth here.
A Seat At The Table
Supporting the efforts of organizations like Space Florida when it comes to marketing and recruiting at international trade shows and conferences, Volusia County deploys its A-Team.
Led by Keith Norden, President and CEO of Team Volusia, the economic development corporation’s membership represents government agencies including 13 municipalities, Volusia County, seven colleges and universities, and more than 80 private sector companies in Volusia County.
Participating in 30 outreach activities annually, Team Volusia is instrumental in driving economic development to the region from across the world by leveraging key partnerships including Enterprise Florida and Space Florida at the state level and the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, Volusia County, and the CEO Business Alliance, locally.
“Our focus is on recruiting companies to the area from outside Volusia County,” said Norden, noting the collaborative relationships have been successful on numerous recruitment projects. “We work with a host of community partners to sell the region as one voice, seamlessly so it’s easier for the client to learn about the community.”
Representing the region at events like the Farnborough Air Show and Paris Air Show, Team Volusia builds and maintains relationships with site selectors and end users when representing Volusia County. Diligent recruitment efforts have resulted in success with aviation and aerospace industry pioneers such as Arralis, a global aerospace communication leader, which is located in the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University MicaPlex.
Even domestic shows, like Washington D.C.’s SATELLITE, are yielding success as Team Volusia touts the assets of the communities just north of the Kennedy Space Center to companies in the aerospace supply chain network, and in 2020 Printech Circuit Laboratories found fertile ground at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s MicaPlex, after a tour of Volusia County in 2019.
Team Volusia Executive Vice President Heather Shubirg says the favorable tax climate also plays a role when attracting companies to the state.
“There are a variety of reasons that make Florida attractive to so many industries. From a tax standpoint, we are number four in the nation for tax climate and number one in the southeast,” said Shubirg. “We have so many assets across the state of Florida that make aviation and aerospace an attractive industry sector for growth.”
It’s a collaborative approach that Kent Sharples, President of the CEO Business Alliance, says is earning Florida a reputation as a welcoming place to locate businesses and companies, while building trust and credibility with potential businesses considering Volusia as an option.
“Nobody is an expert in everything and so, for example, when we have a client that’s involved in the aerospace industry, what I do and what we do as a group do, is we take them down and introduce them to Space Florida, Team Volusia, or the county,” said Sharples. “It’s a question of defining where do you need the support and who can best answer that, and who can make the commitments.”
Defining the Opportunities and Needs
When asked what positions Volusia County to stand out in the lucrative aerospace industry, the answer for Sharples is clear – manpower, location, and competitive land values.
With a limited number of launch pads and an increasingly busy launch schedule, Volusia County’s location just north of Cape Canaveral puts it in the sweet spot for expansion across the region.
“I do believe we are right at the infancy of what’s going on with the privatization of the aerospace industry,” explains Sharples.
Competitive land values add an additional incentive for companies to give Volusia a second look.
“The fact that many of the supply chain companies that do business to support the SpaceXs and Blue Origins, many of those companies don’t have to be on that very expensive real estate right on the Space Coast. They can be 50, 60, 100 miles away and still supply many of those products that are required to be able to put a satellite into orbit,” he said.
“If you stop and think about the wide variety of things that must take place to have a successful launch, particularly long-term, there are just an immeasurable number of products that have to be made that will be required to be made somewhere within close proximity.”
A $425B global industry needs a skilled and versatile workforce.
Ready, willing and able to fulfill those needs, Sharples says Embry-Riddle is the tip of the triangle with its human resources.
“You have education as a resource here to provide everything from the technical labor required to support aerospace, all the way up through PhD aerospace engineers and engineering,” said Sharples.
Volusia County’s economic development director of Helga van Eckert, agrees the county’s talent pool offers a strong selling point, in a rapidly evolving industry.
“Attracting aerospace companies is challenging as the number of competing states and counties are many. However, there is no dispute that a skilled labor force is paramount to the industry sector’s success,” said van Eckert.
In fact, the doors of opportunity are already opening for Volusia County, according to van Eckert.
“There are businesses in our county that already have supply contracts or have the technical expertise to supply the aerospace industry,” she said.
Working collaboratively, Sharples says the business community and industry leaders are welcoming the businesses on the forefront of the future.
“I think many of these companies that we might bring in now that are relatively small or have only been in business half a dozen years will end up being some of the giants that support the maintenance and continued exploration of not only near Earth but also outer space.”
To learn more about opportunities in Volusia County, visit www.teamvolusiaedc.com.
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