U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez visited Central Florida Thursday as part of his efforts to develop a plan to invest $40 million to help soon-to-be-jobless space workers by bringing in industries that can put them back to work,
"We're in the fact-finding mode," Fernandez said in a telephone interview Thursday, before he delivered a keynote address at the Super Regional Leadership Conference in Kissimmee, an economic summit hosted by the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Central Florida Partnership. "We're collecting data and information on a lot of the great work that's already been going on in the Space Coast region. The next phase is going to be an aggressive outreach effort."
Fernandez is laying the groundwork for the detailed plan, to be presented to President Barack Obama by Aug. 15, advising how the money should be spent to
sustain the space industry work force. Some 8,000 workers will be jobless when the shuttle stops flying after two more missions.
The jobs plan will come from a task force co-chaired by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Fernandez's boss, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Members include secretaries of Defense, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Labor and Transportation and the heads of several executive agencies.
"The goal is to give the President a plan in August that lays out how we would recommend investing that $40 million to mitigate the short term impacts of lost jobs and also develop a long-term strategy to diversify the economy," Fernandez said.
In addition to his keynote address, Fernandez met with Brevard County leaders, including Brevard Workforce President Lisa Rice, to discuss the administration's economic recovery plans for the region in the wake of shuttle retirement. He also had a one-hour breakfast meeting with Space Florida President Frank DiBello.
These meetings, and more to come, are an essential part of the process, Fernandez said.
"It ensures that we're getting input from the leadership in this region, the local and state officials and labor representatives," said Fernandez, who also has consulted with the University of Central Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast.
Clean energy, medical sciences and computer simulation and modeling are areas where jobs for space industry workers could be created.
While the job development plan will include spinoffs of aerospace related high-technology businesses, it will also include the creation of a new commercial launch industry at Cape Canaveral.
"We want to have mechanisms to enable all commerce," Fernandez said. "But clearly aerospace has a huge future in this region."
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