Research and Industry Unite on Florida's Space Coast
Area Development Research Desk
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The development of airport industrial parks is not a new phenomenon. Airports typically have the space and infrastructure needed for manufacturing and industry to move in with little fuss. In Melbourne, Florida, a new research park at the local airport is creating innovation - and jobs.
An Industrial Stronghold
The aerospace industry is a major player in Melbourne, Florida, located on the Space Coast near Cape Canaveral. Its 1,380-acre Airport Industrial Park at the Melbourne International Airport opened 40 years ago, and several Fortune 500 companies are located there. General Electric's Railroad Electronics Division, Embraer's Phenom Business Jet U.S. assembly facility, and Rockwell International's Collins Avionics all call the park home.
The development's business stimulation is critical to the community. Annual economic impact is approximately $1 billion, and the companies located there employ 6,000 people.
"Between [Harris Corp.] and Grumman and GE, this industrial park has been key to economic growth and stability of the community," says Larry Wuensch, the airport's director of land use.
Wuensch says one of the area's goals is to become the Wichita of the Southeast in terms of aircraft manufacturing, and recent developments have pushed the region closer to that status. In June Embraer began building a $50 million assembly and customer-delivery facility at the park. The same month, Northrop Grumman won a $517 million Army contract to develop three unmanned combat surveillance airships there. The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) will be longer than a football field and can stay aloft at 20,000 feet for three weeks at a time. The aircraft will provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, outperforming current robotic drones. When completed in 18 months, it will be put to work in Afghanistan.
Innovating for the Future
Research is the base for any new product, and the park is investing in it for the future. It is currently building the Florida Institute of Technology Research, Science and Technology Park in collaboration with the nearby institute. The 100-acre site can accommodate 10 buildings totaling 600,000 square feet.
"As most of the companies within the industrial park are tech-oriented, one of the goals is to capture some of the R&D that might be done by these major companies remotely from this area," Wuensch says.
The development will also mitigate the effects of 8,000 layoffs at the Kennedy Space Center due to the shuttle program's demise. The park's first building will dedicate some space to tech transfer projects between the space center, NASA, and the private sector.
"It's large enough to have a significant impact on our community, which we very definitely need with the downturn at Kennedy Space Center," Wuensch says. "We're hoping this will help pick up some of the slack."
That massive labor pool could attract additional science and high-tech companies to Melbourne. With the area's large, highly skilled work force, Wuensch says the research park will take advantage of the layoffs to support the local economy. The technology park is expected to generate 3,000 new jobs in 15 to 20 years.
"It gives us a whole new dimension and a whole new focus for our economic development efforts," Wuensch says. "It will just supplement and complement what we already have."