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Philip Levine: Space Coast should be Florida’s Silicon Valley

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Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine believes Florida’s Space Coast is the state’s unique opportunity to capture 21st Century technology. He wants to see it become the Sunshine State’s Silicon Valley.

Levine, a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate, sees his vision as not unlike that already pursued by officials at Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, as well as by some within NASA.

Should he run for governor, Levine may be the first statewide candidate to explicitly focus on the region anchored by Kennedy Space Center as a primary place for Florida technology innovation.

“With the right state government, we could turn NASA into the most exciting innovation zone, and it could become Florida’s Silicon Valley,” Levine said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com.

“Every company involved in space should have a presence there. And every university in the state of Florida should be attracted to NASA. We need to own that space,” Levine said.

In fact, Space Florida, the state-chartered space business promotion arm, joined by the Space Coast EDC, have been pursuing such prospects.

The University of Central Florida and the University of Florida have rapidly-growing space technology research programs, as do several other institutions including the University of South Florida and Florida Institute of Technology.

The Space Coast – from Titusville to Melbourne and including Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – is evolving from a place known for 50 years almost exclusively for launching government rockets.

Now it has become a place now with mostly private rocket launches, with small, medium and large space companies involved in everything from rocket engine research to satellites are setting up shop. But, for the most part, investments are relatively modest compared with what those companies in states that have been longtime centers of the space industry and research, such as California, Texas, and Virginia.

Legacy space companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin and “New Space” companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin have operations, some large, and some growing, in and around Kennedy. Most of these enterprises’ research, manufacturing and corporate offices remain elsewhere.

Levine said the state needs to get more involved in trying to change that.

“You need to sit with Jeff Bezos. You need to sit with Musk. You need to sit with all the smaller ones. We’ve got to ask them: ‘What do you need to make this area the most top innovation zone?'” Levine said. “You need to create all those incentives around NASA. You can’t afford not to. And you’ve got to create that buzz, energy.”

Levine is a believer in states offering targeted business incentives, something Space Florida does with transportation money. He believes far more can (and should) be done in the Space Coast.

That puts him closer in economic philosophy to Republican Gov. Rick Scott than to many Democrats, or for that matter to many Republicans who believe Florida’s business incentives programs have gotten out of control. That starts with Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Republican from Land ‘O Lakes who wants to cut them entirely.

Corcoran and Levine both spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Central Florida Urban League last Friday, taking jabs at one another over their positions on incentives.

In his interview, Levine jabbed back, calling Corcoran “Nikita Khrushchev,” referring to the Soviet president of the 1950s and 60s, charging that the speaker seeks centralized control of how the state invests in business.

“You’ve heard when Nikita Khrushchev the speaker, talked about how he doesn’t want to help industry, doesn’t want to help business,” Levine said. “You know: ‘Mr. No, I’m Mr. Yes.’ We took Miami Beach from the city that starts with ‘No’ to the city that starts with ‘Yes.’ The state of Florida needs to be the state that starts with ‘yes.'”

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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