Friday, September 7, 2012

OpEd: Space Coast Economy Threatened by Congress, Again

It’s time for Congress to get off the dime and take action on the federal budget. Avoiding sequestration must be a priority to avoid a congressionally induced economic calamity for the Space Coast, Central Florida, and the nation. Last year, with the failure of the so-called Super Committee to agree to $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, Congress decided the only way to cut spending was to put a gun to our head, called sequestration, under the assumption the result would be so unthinkable that surely consensus would be achieved to prevent that debacle. Yet here we are, with a finger on the trigger and Washington doing nothing to avert disaster. 

The EDC respects the challenges facing Congress, and we presume they understand the devastating impact sequestration will have on our national defense and our battered local economy. We are extremely puzzled by Congress’ inactivity to address the situation. Sequestration, the automatic, across the board hacking of agency budgets if Congress does not pass an alternative by January 2013, would drain more than $330 million from Brevard County’s economy in 2013, according to the Center for Security Policy. 

The Aviation Industry Association estimates that sequestration would cost the U.S. more than two million defense and non-defense jobs, with almost 80,000 lost in Florida through fiscal year 2013. Almost 63 percent of those jobs – about 50,000 – would once again be from Brevard and Orange counties. 

As a community, we’ve chiseled down the unemployment rate from its peak of nearly 12% in January 2010 to the current 9% rate, through innovation and diversification efforts supported by cities, the county and the state. A process as damaging as sequestration will trigger yet more massive layoffs, producing further damage to the Space Coast defense industry, with a ripple effect into the businesses and the workforce that supports it. 

The impending $500 billion in defense cuts threatens the momentum our community has built through the efforts of local economic development partners. All of the progress we’ve made to close the unemployment gap, retain our stellar workforce, and build a diverse economy is now jeopardized. What action is Congress taking? 

Patrick AFB, Cape Canaveral AFS and Brevard County’s defense community will all be in jeopardy if Congress does not take action. Florida’s congressional delegation must continue to fight and demand that congressional leaders come up with a tangible solution. 

Doomsday looms in January 2013. We must be vigilant in our quest for a resolution. Congress must place the welfare of the people above politics and make the difficult choices that will keep the economy from ruin. 

The potential national job loss of millions should consume the U.S. Congress. It must lay politics aside and take action to avert this self-imposed budget cutting exercise that will greatly injure our military readiness and deepen the economic wound. Sequestration is not governing; it is enabling our elected representatives to sidestep leadership at a cost too great to allow. 

Ron Cobb is Chairman of the Space Coast Defense Alliance, a council of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.