Ask any politician how Georgia does in the aerospace industry and you will hear a very positive answer like “great.” The truth is Georgia does great in the aeronautics side of aerospace– and the little known fact is Georgia does very poorly with the space side of the industry with less than 1/10 of 1 percent market share of a huge $330 billion space industry. Some legislators compare the space industry in Georgia to the film industry. The film industry was paid little attention by Georgia until we started to ask key industry players for their business and then they were all too eager to locate here to the point where Georgia is now realizing over $2 billion of annual revenue from the film industry.
So, it is time for Georgia legislators to wake up again. Alabama, Texas, and Florida, are all stealing space industry jobs from Georgia when our state actually has significant advantages over them. For example, Georgia Tech produces more aerospace engineers than any program in the country. When they graduate, 95 percent of that Georgia-educated intellectual capital leave the state for employment in other states. These are STEM jobs commanding over $100K/year in wages that are the kind of jobs we want to retain. These engineers would be a robust pipeline of talent to any space industry company planning to build a new headquarters, laboratory, testing facility, or manufacturing facility in Georgia.
Georgia is a leading logistics state with extensive freight, ports, intermodal, air and interstate infrastructure. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that locating a space industry manufacturing plant in Georgia will allow the plant to support four to six spaceport launch points. That would involve supporting Florida spaceports at Kennedy, Canaveral, and Cecil Field, the two spaceports in Virginia through the ports of Savanah and Brunswick and the future spaceport in Camden County, Georgia. Forty eight other states wish they had Georgia’s location, location, location to serve these transportation hubs of the future.
Does Georgia want to concede the space transportation industry to other states? Transportation to low earth orbit is currently being driven by the telecommunications industry, earth monitoring satellites, and national defense. In the next 10 years space tourism, zero gravity manufacturing, and mining rare minerals will fuel more demand for Space launch transportation. Any logistics manager will tell you that hundreds of support companies flock to locate near new manufacturing plants and that is where the economic multiplier effect accelerates the initial plant investment.
When spaceport Camden is licensed by the FAA (currently in Environmental Impact Study phase) it will be a crown jewel for Georgia. The Camden site has been described by at least two launch companies (after they toured it) as the best potential spaceport site in the country. That is because launch companies can launch from west to east over water. The earth’s rotation is from west to east so launching west to east requires less energy to put a given pound of satellite payload into orbit. Launching west to east over water is difficult to do from competing Spaceports located in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. The cards are truly stacked in Georgia’s favor when it comes to taking advantage of the fast-growing space transportation industry.
Georgia is a right-to-work state, while states that currently have a high concentration of space industry employers are not right-to-work states. About 5 years ago a 1,000-employee plant was relocated from a
non-right to work state to right-to-work Alabama. When asked why the employer did not consider Georgia, the astonishing answer was “because nobody asked.”
Yes, that is right. Our state does not target key industry players in industries our state has identified as key to our economic development. The Georgia strategy is “when a customer knocks on our door we answer the door.” This is not competitive with other states like Texas, Florida and Alabama. They are calling on customers, communicating their advantages, asking for the business and finding manufacturing opportunities that are on the table that may have been previously unknown. This is basic business development practice in the private sector, yet it is not being done by Georgia.
Like the film industry, Georgia can still play catch up and secure more market share. But it will require a change to a more aggressive state business development strategy to be competitive. So, if you like what the film industry did for Georgia, you are going to love what the space industry will do— especially since the global space industry is a whopping five times the size of the global film industry.
Bob Scaringe of Marietta is president of AVG Communications, a consulting company in the space industry.