In recent decades, there has not been a strong tradition of venture-capital investment in the aerospace sector.
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That is emerging as a big stumbling block as the space shuttle program winds down, potentially leaving thousands jobless as early as year's end during one of the weakest economic periods in a generation.
If Central Florida is going to retain a dominant source of its brainpower in the form of the Space Coast's work force, the region must find a solution to the venture capital problem.
The answer could lie in the $40 million President Barack Obama has designated to help the region get back on its feet once the shuttle flies its last mission.
On Friday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who Obama appointed to lead a task force to determine how to spend the $40 million, held a meeting in Orlando.
XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson told them his company needs more venture-capital dollars.
"We want to be the future barnstormers in space," he said. "What companies like ours need are experienced institutional investment funds."
Officials are already mulling the idea of using some of the $40 million to start a government-backed investment fund.
It's been done before. In 1999, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency launched In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit investment firm that aims to find new technologies for the U.S. intelligence community.
It might seem common for well-known companies in the aerospace sector to be funded by their own deep-pocketed executives — think PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, whose SpaceX successfully launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral on Friday; Virgin empire mogul Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic; or Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.
But that is not the reality for all.
"We're always out there raising money," Nelson told me. "We're one of the few well-known companies in this sector not funded by your friendly neighborhood billionaire."
And that would also be the case for the thousands of NASA employees and contractors who will lose jobs when the shuttle stops flying. Their own ideas to commercialize technology they create and start new companies could be a significant source of jobs in the future — if the money is there to help them get started.
Locke, the commerce secretary, said after the meeting that the committee was considering the idea of creating a venture fund.
"It's something the task force needs to look at," he said.
The former governor of Washington acknowledged that when Boeing laid off large numbers of people there, "a lot of people started their own companies."
There's no question that designating some of the money for business investment is a good idea and one that has the backing of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D- New Smyrna Beach, as well as people on the front lines of helping find jobs for laid-off shuttle workers such as Brevard County Workforce Development Board President Lisa Rice.
But a lot of questions remain about just when and how the $40 million will become available. Obama wants a report on how to spend the money from Locke and Bolden by Aug. 15. It could be much later, however, by the time Congress votes to OK the funds, if at all.
Beth Kassab can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.