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One Giant Leap: The Economic Rebound of the Space Coast

On the edge of their seats, waiting with bated breath, the eyes of our country were focused squarely on the Space Coast of Florida 50 years ago today as Apollo 11 started its now infamous journey to the moon. The Space Coast of Florida was the center of the universe; however, since that historic day, the region has gone through significant change. As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Florida TaxWatch is examining how the region at the center of the success has evolved over the past half-century, and what lies ahead for the Space Coast. 

Made famous by the Apollo launch, visitors and businesses flocked to the Space Coast to become a part of the action. However, by 2004, the cost of the program to NASA had become just too much to validate, and President Bush announced that shuttle launches would come to an end in 2010 (note that last launch took place in 2011). While this “heads up” certainly gave the region an opportunity to plan, it was a gut punch to the businesses and residents that were so heavily invested in opportunities that NASA brought to the area.

By the time NASA ceased space shuttle operations, 10,000 employees were out of work (8 percent of the region), and the snowball effect didn’t end there. Coupled with the great recession, a total of more than 30,000 jobs were lost. All in all, the Space Coast region saw unemployment spike to 12 percent and median home values sunk from $250,000 in 2007 to less than $100,000 in 2011.

Faced with a struggling economy and the loss of one of the area’s largest employers, the Space Coast was staring into the abyss, much like the pilots on that historic mission 50 years ago. Understanding the new reality at hand, government officials and economic development leaders knew they needed to evolve, and while they could not rely on the likes of NASA, a new wave of space travel was forming. Soon companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, and others were taking over NASA launch pads and engineers, mechanics, and other space-dependent industries were back to work.

The growth since the emergence of private space explorations has saved the region. Currently, the unemployment rate in the Space Coast is 3.1 percent, a third of a percent lower than the U.S. On top of that, the tax base has also taken off, growing from a low of $450 million in taxable sales in 2010 to a peak of $850 million in 2018. All the while, housing values have regained their pre-recession highs and new developments are under construction up and down the coast.

The stars are bright as the Space Coast region prepares for launch toward the future. Tourism has rebounded in the region, private space exploration and travel have set their sights on lofty goals, and President Donald Trump has put forward the notion of creating Space Force, which Governor Ron DeSantis asked to be headquartered in Florida. So as we take time to remember that fateful launch to the moon, let us not forget the region that made it happen, what it has gone through, and the bright future it holds. 

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