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Space Coast: America’s Launchpad For Aerospace And Defense Innovation

Florida continues to be the ‘place for space,’ bringing together industry giants and the top talent to support ongoing innovation.

For decades, Florida’s space coast has been synonymous with the awe-inspiring spectacle of lunar missions and the relentless pursuit of space exploration. But while NASA’s shuttles once defined its horizon, in recent years, the region has rapidly transitioned into a flourishing hub for aerospace and defense innovation, attracting not only legacy giants but also trailblazing commercial titans like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

That influx is proof that “this is the place for space,” says Thomas Eye, vice president of the department of defense market for space and defense services provider ARES Corporation. Eye, a 28-year veteran of the Air Force and retired commander of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, has witnessed the region’s renaissance over the past 20 years. “It’s crazy here now, with the construction of apartment buildings and new homes springing up everywhere,” he says. “Areas that were nothing when I got here in 2000 are now crowded shopping centers and home developments. It’s growing fast.”

All of that made it an easy choice for Tsunami Tsolutions, which provides technology solutions to aerospace and defense companies of all sizes, to locate in Melbourne, Florida, because in addition to proximity to its client base, the site also offers fertile recruiting ground. “The attribute that makes our firm unique in the information technology space is that 35 percent to 40 percent of our people have hands-on industry experience, so we’ve essentially walked a mile in our customer’s shoes,” says CEO Mark Buongiorno.

Eye notes that the convergence of industry has also created a more competitive talent market for all employers in the area. “One of our biggest challenges now is keeping talented employees on the team when there is such a demand for highly skilled personnel across the entire industry,” he says.

But on the flip side, the prospect of working within a stone’s throw of the Kennedy Space Center, where human spaceflight history was written, adds a unique allure for those who aspire to work in A&D. “There are other locations that have their niche in the space industry, but if you want to be part of a launch, if you want to touch something that’s going to be on the moon, it’s right here,” says Eye. “That in itself is attractive.”

That, along with positives like the state’s no-income-tax policy, affordable cost of living and a climate that promises year-round sunshine, have made it a magnet for talent located elsewhere in the U.S. “It is a competitive market, but that tends to draw talent to the area. We attract individuals who want to work for a small company yet still do cool things like build software for Joint Strike Fighters,” says Buongiorno. “Our work and location attracts that type of talent to our company.”

The region also is home to a constellation of universities and technical schools that are veritable launch pads for skilled labor. Institutions like the University of Central Florida and the Florida Institute of Technology are at the forefront of STEM education, producing a steady stream of graduates equipped with cutting-edge skills. “We’re very fortunate to have FIT in our backyard and UCF right up the road, not to mention the other Florida universities,” says Eye. “We go there quarterly to recruit, and we bring them on as interns and potentially then as new employees.”

Mark Buongiorno headshot
“It is a competitive market, but that tends to draw talent to the area. We attract individuals who want to work for a small company yet still do cool things like build software for Joint Strike Fighters.”—Mark Buongiorno, CEO, Tsunami Tsolutions

He adds that the company benefits from another local program developed by the Space Coast Economic Development Commission: “Launches, Lagers and Vets,” which brings veterans and their family members together at local breweries for informal networking events. “[The EDC] is trying to make this one of the best places for separating military members to stay and work, because the skills they have are the skills we need in the space industry,” Eye says. ARES also hires out of the DOD SkillBridge program, which connects transitioning servicemembers with industry partners in real-world job experiences for up to the last six months of their service. “So the military services continue to pay their salaries, but they come work side-by-side with us, where they gain valuable experiences and skills, and if we can, we hire them as full-time employees—a definite win-win.”

Florida’s geographical position nestled at the crossroads of North and South America and flanked by the Atlantic is another plus. Companies established on the Space Coast benefit from this centrality, with seamless access to global markets and a time zone conducive to transatlantic and hemispheric trade. “We are doing more work with airlines in South America, so this is a really good launching point to connect our employees to our customers in the region,” says Buongiorno.

He adds that the expenses of doing business at the Florida location, both in facilities and employment, compare favorably to the firm’s other offices. “I just have a very cost-effective operation here,” he says, noting that he and his wife chose to be personally based in Florida as opposed to the other sites. “We’re in a place people want to live. That’s not a bad thing.”


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