After the Shuttle: From Space Coast to Ghost Coast?
There is a 70-plus mile stretch of Florida beach that is affectionately called the "Space Coast".
The fear in the area surrounding Kennedy Space Center is that when the Shuttle program ends this month, it will become the "Ghost Coast".
"People are afraid that it's going to be a ghost town," said Paul Kandravi, who owns a local diner in nearby Titusville, a popular city for viewing Shuttle launches. Kandravi expects business to drop about 25-percent.
"I've had a few customers that have been laid off, and they've gone up north or out west for jobs," he said.
Unemployment in the area is slightly below 11 percent, and in July, another 2,000 NASA-related jobs will be lost. It is generally thought that for every job in the space program, at least two more are created in the private sector.
For a town like Titusville, Florida—which has a large residential community that works at Kennedy—it's a looming problem.
"Our unemployment rate will be higher than the rest of Florida for the next couple of years—there's no doubt about that," said Mayor James Tully, who is trying to view it as an opportunity. He thinks that affordable housing, beautiful beaches and Florida weather will help diversify the local economy. "In terms of doom and gloom, and folks running around saying the sky is falling, that's just not the case."
"You're talking thousands of foreclosures," said lawyer Jeff Kaufman, who has been a busy man these days, defending people against banks in foreclosure proceedings. "People are going to leave the city en masse, and there's nothing really here.
"Where are they going to work?"
The story of Todd Reeves puts it all in perspective. He has worked for the Space Shuttle program since the 2nd launch 29 years ago. On July 22, he will be out of a job.
He's 52, and his home is now in foreclosure. He has to work. He wants to work. But he has no idea where that will be.
All he knows is that it won't be in the space business.
"I'm a guy who needs to work," Reeves said. "If it means going to Wal-Mart , I'll be the best Wal-Mart employee I can be."
But even that option might not be available.
"There aren't a lot of Wal-Mart jobs," said Jeff Kaufman, who not only practices law in the area, he was born and raised in the region. I wouldn't be surprised [to see someone] go from rocket scientist to burger flipper."
That might be a little extreme, but the workforce is being flooded with people. Just five years ago, there were 16,000 employees at Kennedy Space Center. Now, it's under 12,000. When the Shuttle program fully winds down, it will be about 8,000.
Some are older and nearing retirement, but many are like Todd Reeves, who needs to work to survive—and keep his home.
Despite all that, at least at this point, Reeves is more emotional about the Space Shuttle program ending than losing his job and seeing long-time colleagues go their separate ways.
"There will be a tear," he said, choking up. "I have a possibility of seeing my friends again. Saying goodbye to the shuttle will be the hardest because I'll never see it again."