Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What the Space Industry in Florida Wants, And How It Happens

Today's the day! Each year, the space industry in Florida comes together to visit the state capital of Tallahassee to spread the love of space through Florida Space Day. We form teams of three or four, then visit as many legislators as we can in the day. With over a dozen teams, we each team is assigned 6 to 10 legislators, so all are visited throughout the day.

As team lead and the only Space Day veteran on my team, I scheduled us appointments to speak with two freshman representatives of the Florida House, four legislative aids to four other representatives, and a drop-by of one office. Additionally, my team will visit the Director of the Florida Department for Economic Opportunity, and I have a quick interview scheduled with SpaceFlight Insider.

What do we talk about during these quick 15 minute visits?

Firstly and most importantly, we thank them for their support! Florida is (last I checked) #2 in the nation for the space industry. We strive to be #1, but that involves continued support and the willingness to change the business environment and innovate. In the past 5 years, I've seen significant change in the space industry in Florida particularly due to efforts by Space Florida and the influx of newspace, but we have more ground to cover if we're going to hold our position as a space state and work toward becoming #1.

Along those lines, we ask for continued support, especially in regards to the funding of Space Florida and pro-business initiatives. There are specific bills and recurring funding initiatives that need to be continued in order for Florida to maintain its position and continue to do good work in the industry. Space Florida's budget, space industry tourism marketing, quick response training funding, the qualified defense and space contractor tax refund, the qualified target industry tax refund, and the manufacturing machinery and equipment sales and use tax are among the initiatives being supported by the industry.

And finally, the support and funding of education programs: the funding of Space Week for middle schoolers, the funding of space research grants and programs, the promotion of space education programs in Florida universities. Two of the three higher education universities that I attended are in Florida and although we are fantastic at what we do, our programs are surprisingly small, especially compared to many other states whose university space initiatives are powerhouses. I'm very proud when I see my alma mater universities and even universities in Florida that I have no connection to succeed. Part of me is still a scholar and wants to promote education and research initiatives as a means of growing the workforce and educating the public at large. And as I work towards starting a family, primary education will also be on my mind, and Florida is not known for strong primary education. We can do better.

Last night was the Florida Space Day pre-reception at the Challenger Learning Center in Tallahassee. It's a chance for this year's participants to gather together to meet and discuss the plan for the next day. I met one of my team members last night and will meet another tomorrow. This year, 32 companies and universities are participating, plus some folks from NASA and Space Florida.

I has just arrived after a long drive and was standing by the hors d'oeuvre table when a man introduced himself as Mike. Sometimes I can pick up the astronaut vibe and sometimes I can't, but he soon informed me that he's Mike McCulley of STS-34 who will be signing autographs tomorrow. And of course our resident KSC Director and astronaut Bob Cabana was present and bumped into me, literally, I think on purpose to get my attention. He made a short speech during during which the former marine told us, “Pay attention! We have a good, positive story to tell.” Space Florida CEO and Space Day co-chair Frank DiBello also gave a short speech about how the space industry is a catalyst and driver to carry Florida into the future.

A large group of us wrapped up the evening with dinner nearby. And now, breakfast time! I'm off to make a difference.

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