Speech highlights Brevard's economic boon, ranging from Terran Orbital to Costco to hotels

Rick Neale
Florida Today

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Sputnik launched into low-Earth orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, kicking the Space Race between the U.S. and USSR — and development of rural, sparsely populated Brevard County — into high gear.

Sixty-four years later, Brian Baluta told a crowd that Brevard has recently benefited from "an embarrassment of riches" on the economic development front, even in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lockheed Martin unveiled its $20 million STAR spacecraft manufacturing facility in July. The site is the former Astronaut Hall of Fame building in Titusville.

"In terms of people betting on the Space Coast, we had 13 hotel projects move forward during the pandemic. I think people have a lot of confidence in the future here because the fundamentals are good," said Baluta, director of communications and partner relations for the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.

"I think you look at a lot of other markets, and they're overheating because of low interest rates, or people wanting to get out of major urban areas," Baluta said.

"But I think (our) fundamentals of diversification of industry, manufacturing technology, engineering: Those all have very high ceilings," he said.

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Monday morning, Baluta touted Brevard's recent economic boon during a breakfast speech to the Space Coast Association of Realtors in Palm Shores. 

He highlighted a list of recent job-creating announcements, company expansions and corporate milestones. Chief among them: Terran Orbital.

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Brevard and announced the company will build the world's largest satellite manufacturing facility at the former Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

The $300 million, 660,000-square-foot factory and headquarters are expected to create 2,100 jobs by the end of 2025, paying average annual salaries of $84,000.

"The big theme that we've experienced over the last decade is, we went from a place that was primarily for launch. And with a few exceptions, most satellites and spacecraft or rockets were produced somewhere else, transported here, and we sent them on their way," Baluta said.

"That was good in terms of jobs — but it put us in a position of not having a lot of diversity. The name of the game in the Space Coast right now is diversity. Depending on the quarter, we're the No. 1 or No. 2 most industry-diversified county in the state," he said.

Embraer Executive Jets employs about 950 people at Melbourne Orlando International Airport and Titusville.

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Other recent economic-development milestones:

  • GenH2, which produces liquid hydrogen, announced in September that it will build its $35 million global headquarters in Titusville. More than 100 employees are expected to work on the 10-acre campus.
  • Embraer delivered its 1,500th executive jet in September. The company employs about 950 workers at Melbourne Orlando International Airport and Titusville.
  • Blue Origin has invested $1.03 billion in facilities and created 735 direct jobs on the Space Coast as of last month.
  • L3Harris added 550 local jobs in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Baluta said.
  • Lockheed Martin unveiled its $20 million STAR spacecraft manufacturing facility in July. The site is the former Astronaut Hall of Fame building in Titusville.
  • Dark Storm Industries, a New York-based gunmaker, is moving its headquarters to Titusville, creating 50 new jobs with average annual salaries of $50,000.

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Economic development:Gun-maker Dark Storm Industries relocating from New York to Titusville, bringing 50 jobs

"Florida's going to grow. Central Florida's going to grow. But the Space Coast has the economy and the room to actually accommodate that growth," Baluta said.

He pointed to the United Van Lines 2020 national migration study, which ranked Brevard as the nation's seventh-most popular place to move among urban areas of at least 50,000 residents.

Wilmington, North Carolina, topped the list. Melbourne-Titusville-Palm Bay finished one spot behind Knoxville, Tennessee, and one spot ahead of Austin-San Marcos, Texas.

Baluta also displayed a PowerPoint slide showcasing major Brevard commercial projects, ranging from Costco's upcoming Viera warehouse to The Surf, a $35 million Cocoa Beach condominium complex spearheaded by Howie D of the Backstreet Boys.

One of those projects was the Hyatt Place "fly-in hotel" at Melbourne Orlando International Airport. A groundbreaking ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the site, located just west of the passenger terminal.

Other featured projects included Space Coast Town Center in West Melbourne, Borrows West in Viera, and the seven-story apartment complex slated to replace the Orange Court Apartments in downtown Melbourne.

"We've got projects from north to south. And these are just some of them. I mean, it's really an embarrassment of riches that we have right now," Baluta said.

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY (for more of his stories, click here.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or rneale@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @RickNeale1

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