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Remarks at Townhall Meeting, on Space Coast Economy, Orlando, Florida


Friday, June 4, 2010



Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Townhall Meeting, on Space Coast Economy, Orlando, Florida

Thank you Frank for that kind introduction and all the work you’re doing with Space Florida.

It is great to be here with so many business and economic development leaders in an area that is synonymous with American innovation and scientific discovery.

The science conducted in the Florida communities connected to America’s space industry has added immeasurably to our understanding of our world … and the world beyond.

In the process, the industry has driven economic development throughout this region, and helped spin off countless private sector innovations, from memory foam mattresses to advanced computing.

I came here today to talk about how this region can build on that legacy of innovation and continue to provide opportunity and good jobs for its people well into the 21st-century

I know that for many people in Central Florida, that promising future might seem distant right now.

This region has endured some of the worst that the economic crisis had to offer: 

  • Homes have been lost; 
  • Businesses have closed their doors; 
  • The unemployment rate has been running two points higher than the national average. . .

. . . and of course, the region is now facing the impending retirement of the space shuttle program, which will cause further job losses and hardship.

This move was in the cards well before the Obama administration entered office, but that doesn’t make it any easier on the NASA workers and their families who will be affected.

Before I leave here today, I hope all of you will walk away with one unambiguous message:

We are committed to this region.

The measures that President Obama took to restore our national economy are starting to work. 

And we have an ambitious and targeted plan to revitalize the Space Coast region.

First, let me talk about the big picture on the economy.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in May, the U.S. economy added 431,000 jobs.

It marks the fifth consecutive month the American economy has added jobs – excluding temporary census positions, nearly half a million in total.

And this comes on the heels of April’s increase of 290,000 jobs, which was the largest monthly increase in America in four years. 

While these numbers are promising, we will not be able to reverse overnight two devastating years of recession – a period during which we lost 8 million jobs. 

As the president said this week, “it’s not going to be a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives.”

But this is a start.  We are moving in the right direction.

And this recovery hasn't happened by chance.  The president took aggressive steps:

  • to stabilize the financial system,
  • to keep people in their homes; and
  • to pass a Recovery Act that created demand in our economy when local governments, consumers and businesses couldn’t or wouldn’t spend.

These steps were not always popular. 

But it was the right thing to do.  And it has made a measurable difference in people's lives.  Here in Florida alone, the Recovery Act is responsible for:

  • Over 7 million Florida working families receiving $3.5 billion in tax relief; and
  • Over 1.2 million Floridians receiving expanded unemployment insurance.

Meanwhile the act has funded

  • Almost 700 transportation infrastructure projects valued at over $1.7 billion.

These investments have helped Florida weather one of the most difficult economic periods in its recent history.

Now, as we emerge from this recession, we need to chart a new path. 

American can not, we will not, return to the pre-crisis status quo, where we:

  • Relied on bubbles, debt and financial speculation; and
  • Where middle-class families saw their wages flat-line for a decade while the cost of things like tuition and health care went through the roof.

We must build a new, stronger foundation for growth and prosperity.

That is exactly what this president has done.


  • Overhauling our health care system to make it more affordable and accessible;
  • To bringing much needed reforms to our education system;
  • To ensuring greater accountability for Wall Street and stronger protections for consumers. . .

. . . the tough choices we made have already had a long-term impact.

In the months ahead, we’re going to building on that economic foundation with:

  • Investments in the skills and education we need to compete. 
  • Investments in a 21st century infrastructure like high-speed rail and high-speed Internet.
  • Investments in research and technology, like clean energy, that can lead to new jobs and new exports and new industries.

And finally, we’re going to keep empowering local communities to:

  • Take control of their own destiny;
  • Identify their own strengths; and
  • Build a better future.

That is the guiding philosophy behind President Obama's plan to spur long-term recovery on the Space Coast.

To begin with, the president is ensuring that the Kennedy Space Center, and all of NASA have the resources they need to pursue new avenues of discovery.

The president has acted quickly to increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years, with the goal of:

  • Developing path-breaking technologies;
  • Increasing the program’s reach;
  • Reducing the cost of human and robotic space exploration; and;
  • Creating thousands of new jobs.

But the president is also targeting resources specifically to Central Florida, with a new $40 million, multiagency Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development.

I am co-chairing this new Task Force with NASA administrator Charles Bolden, and we will be working closely with colleagues throughout the federal government and with local leaders to:

  • expand the region's economic base,
  • identify emerging opportunities; and
  • to ensure the region's aerospace workers have the training and resources they need to be an integral part of the region's new economic strategy

What will this strategy look like?

 Well, that will mostly be decided by leaders like the ones in this room.

Back in the late 1990s, I served as the governor of Washington state, – and our local leaders knew:

  • What our strengths were;
  • What our weaknesses were; and
  • Where investments could have the most impact.

It’s no different here in Central Florida.  This Task Force will not be imposing one-size-fits-all solutions from Washington, DC.

It will be conducting a consistent and aggressive outreach effort to representatives from:

  • Nonprofit organizations;
  • Business;
  • Labor; and
  • State, Local, and Tribal governments. . .

. . . anyone who has a say in this region's economic development, we want at the table.

And once the Task Force has gathered the best ideas from throughout the region, we owe the president an action plan by August 15th on how we will spend the funds.

The work of our Task Force is also going to be supplemented by a new $15 million grant from the Labor Department that will provide displaced NASA workers in the region with career guidance, job training, and continuing education programs.

A lot of resources will be coming to this area in the months ahead.  And that will build upon the already substantial investments the Obama administration and the Commerce Department have made in Central Florida over the last year.

This administration has made a significant investment in Central Florida's transportation infrastructure with $1.25 billion in Recovery Act funding for America’s first high-speed rail line. 

At the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, we’ve got an array of promising projects in the works or already underway:

  • We are helping the Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority expand Bristow Academy, its renowned helicopter pilot training facility;
  • We have invested $1.5 million to expand an R&D facility for the photonics industry at the University of Central Florida;
  • We are helping to build a major new bio-sciences research facility in Port Saint Lucie;
  • And we have invested $13.2 million in the new University of Florida at Gainesville’s Florida Innovation Hub.  This LEED-certified facility will be equipped to build out efficient office and laboratory space for a number of emerging and existing start-up companies. 

Now, at first glance, these efforts might not seem to have a lot in common.  But there is a thread running through all of them.

Rail lines, technology incubators, R&D labs, workforce training facilities -- these are all important building blocks of economic growth.

And Central Florida – with its highly-skilled, world-class aerospace workforce, has an uncommon set of strengths to build upon and expand its economic base.

I'm looking forward to working with all of you in the months ahead as we all work with a focus on the same goal:

Creating high-skill, high-wage jobs, and growing Central Florida’s economy.

Thank you again for coming.  And thank you for hosting me today.

I’m eager to hear from you about the work you’re doing and answer questions, but first let me hand things off to my co-chair on the Space Coast Task Force, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.