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Brevard County Feels Impact of Space Shuttle Program's End


July 06, 2011 | WMFE - When the shuttle program ends, a total of about 9,000 space workers are expected to be out of work. But the impact on Brevard County's economy doesn't end there. An additional 11,000 people are projected to lose their jobs as a result of the Kennedy Space Center layoffs.

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[Photo, at left: Life-size statues of shrimp lounge outside Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville]

 

An economic “spillover effect” is rippling through Brevard County’s business community.

Titusville real estate broker Ron Laken is frustrated with the state of the industry on the Space Coast. “The market is very, uh…unique,” he sighs.

Laken’s not in the greatest mood. He just came from closing a home sale, but he had to settle for a bargain basement price. It’s not an unusual tale for Florida realtors these days, but Laken says things are especially tough in Titusville because of all the space workers leaving town.

“We’re having people come in pretty much weekly saying that they have lost their jobs, they have been pink-slipped and they’re relocating either to Texas, Georgia, South Carolina,” he says. “A lot of aerospace companies [are] up that way.” 

So far, over 4,000 space workers have seen their last day on the shuttle program. And local employment analysts say for every one of them out of a job, more than two jobs are cut from the businesses where that worker would’ve spent money.

 Among those businesses are some of the independent charter-fishing outfits lining the shores of Cape Canaveral. Craig Shaffer captains the boat Orlando Princess. “We’ve had a very successful business until probably the last two years, with the shuttle ending,” he says.

The shuttle program layoffs are expected to subtract about $600 million in wages from the local economy. So the space workers that accounted for a big chunk of Shaffer’s business haven’t been around much lately – many have moved for new jobs or they just can’t afford a regular fishing trip anymore. 

The other part of Shaffer’s clientele is made up of tourists coming to watch a launch, and they're still around, for now. In fact, on launch day, his boat is packed. “Lately, we’ve seen a lot more business with it,” Shaffer says. “A lot more people [are] wanting to go up offshore and watch the shuttle go up. It’s a very beautiful sight.”

But one more launch and the tourists are gone, too. Shaffer’s not sure how much longer he can keep his business running after that.

Many other businesses have been dependent on the shuttle, and they’re also bracing for a slowdown. One example is the local restaurant industry.

It’s the end of the lunch rush at Dixie Crossroads. The popular beach-themed seafood restaurant has nearly 500 seats and an equally ample sense of humor – cartoonish statues of shrimp the size of grown men stand smiling at the front door.

Laurilee Thompson is the second generation of her family to own the place. She says NASA’s always been part of her life, both personally and professionally.

“I grew up with the space program, it and I are the same age,” Thompson laughs. As for her business, she says, “We get a huge amount of business off the launches. Absolutely. We’ll miss the space shuttle, there’s no question.”

But her restaurant is an institution in Brevard County, and she’s confident it’ll survive comfortably until the next NASA space vehicle is ready to go.

After all, Dixie Crossroads was around before the shuttle. Thompson remembers the Apollo program’s Saturn 5 rocket and its dramatic launch. “Lots more flames and smoke and fire and noise and vibration – they would break windows here in Titusville,” she says fondly. “The shuttle’s wimpy-sounding compared to the Saturn Five!”

She’s certain the tourists will come back if NASA’s new project offers a similar spectacle. In the meantime, she’s optimistic that the area’s other amenities – beaches, wildlife, and history – will keep tourists coming back until the next manned spacecraft gets off the ground. 

 

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