Yesterday I attended a meeting of President Obama's Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development.
Florida's aerospace community employs some of the most talented and highly trained people in America. So, as our nation's space program transforms away from Shuttle flights, the Obama Administration is taking steps to help Florida's Space Coast transform its economy and prepare its workers for the opportunities of tomorrow.
Those steps began in May with the multi-agency Presidential Task Force on Space Industry Work Force and Economic Development and its $40 million commitment to regional economic growth. Yesterday's session was an opportunity for co-chairs Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to report on last Thursday's town hall meeting where they heard directly from local leaders working to strengthen and diversify the Space Coast economy.
Now, while it may seem like the Space Shuttle is only a single NASA program, some estimates indicate that when that program ends its historic run, 8,000 technically-skilled people will need to shift into other jobs and industries. This Administration is working hard to facilitate that transition.
"The problem is immediate," Secretary Locke said. "The impact is substantial. The need for help is critical."
And DOT is absolutely committed to doing what it can.
One natural fit for this community is the Federal Aviation Administration, specifically with its Office of Commercial Space Transportation but also with other aerospace programs. The FAA has been participating in the weekly Task Force meetings and is taking action to provide opportunities and stimulate economic development.
For example, FAA:
- Posted 50 positions in an online job fair and officials from Human Resources, Commercial Space Transportation, Air Traffic, Aviation Safety, and Airports will conduct interviews later this month in Florida.
- Will participate in a June 25th, NASA-sponsored job fair. FAA’s Veterans Employment Program Manager will also be available at this event to advise and assist veterans seeking employment.
- Is identifying critical FAA vacancies for the upcoming fiscal years, coupled with highlighting and marketing Next Gen and commercial space transportation occupations.
- Is working with Embry Riddle University in Florida on appropriate training and research and development initiatives--in consultation with FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation--that will benefit both the industry and the community.
But, because the Space Coast's highly skilled community can quickly adapt to other transportation fields, DOT's efforts will not stop with the FAA.
For example, Florida's high-speed rail corridor underway from Tampa to Orlando and the eventual link from Miami to Orlando will lay the foundation for economic development to keep this community thriving.
And, whether it's commercial space rocketry, alternative fuel development or high-speed rail technology or safety engineering, the transportation industry in Florida is poised to take advantage of the skills this community offers.
I learned in yesterday's meeting that DOT's efforts are being complemented by similar efforts in many other federal agencies. For example, the Department of Labor has made available a job-training grant of $15 million to help workers prepare for new careers.
In addition to each agency's individual support for the Space Coast community is the inter-agency collaboration and exchange of ideas the Task Force makes possible.
As Administrator Bolden said "That is something that comes out when you engage in multi-agency dialogue."
We know these are difficult times across America. And combining those economic difficulties with the end of the historic Space Shuttle program amplifies the challenges Florida's Space Coast faces. But this Administration is not going to let that community face those challenges alone.