BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. -- Living on the Space Coast of Florida has always been something I have been proud of. I get to live somewhere that tourists pay thousands of dollars to vacation to every year. I can boast that I have seen so many space shuttle launches from my backyard that eventually they lost their appeal and ability to take me outside to watch. Shuttle launches made the Space Coast unique from the other coasts of Florida and was a source of livelihood for the close to 15,000 residents who worked at the Kennedy Space Center.
It has been almost a year since the Shuttle program was shut down last July. Although they may not be visible to the tourists who still flock to the beaches, the effects of the close are still resonating in the people who call the Space Coast home.
When the shuttle program closed last July, more than 7,400 employees lost their jobs. Brevard County's unemployment rate spiked from 10.6 percent in April to 11.7 percent in August 2011. A year later, the unemployment rate has gone down to 9 percent due to those workers who could not find jobs leaving the county for work elsewhere.
Many of the workers had specific skills and found themselves underemployed elsewhere with less pay and benefits. The Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast in Brevard County estimated the cumulative economic impact of the close of the shuttle program would be 13,000 lost jobs and $650 million in lost income in the three years after the close.
Launches represented about 5 percent of the Space Coast's $2.8 billion tourism industry, but the Space Coast is attempting to make up for it through other tourism outlets. Cocoa Beaches and cruises leaving out of Port Canaveral remain popular tourist attractions. Kennedy Space Center has made changes to keep relevant. Visitors are now allowed to tour and get up close to the launch pad sites as well as the Launch Control Centers and the Vehicle Assembly Building, which were formally off limits to visitors.
KSC is currently building an exhibit to house the Atlantis Space Shuttle, which will be open in July 2013. Although the Space Coast economy suffered with the close of the Shuttle program long strides are being made to recover.