Area business, government leaders look to make county part of Florida's 'Space Triangle'

Efforts to position Volusia County as an aerospace hub got a big boost earlier this month when New Jersey startup Orbit Beyond confirmed its decision to locate its manufacturing operations here.

[READ MORE: NASA-funded startup to build lunar landers in Port Orange]

Hopes by area business leaders were further lifted by California developer Chad Hagle's disclosure of his plans to convert the aging Volusia Square shopping center into an aerospace-oriented research-and-development park called Space Square.

The Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce is now looking to keep that momentum going by putting on a public forum on "Expanding the aerospace footprint in Daytona/Volusia."

The event will be held Aug. 6 at the Henderson Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Featured speakers will include Frank DiBello, CEO of Space Florida, Ricardo Navarro, director of launch and mission operations flight services for The Boeing Co., Pam Underwood of the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, Maj Mirmirani, dean of Embry-Riddle's College of Engineering, and Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys.

Jim Cameron, the chamber's senior vice president of government relations who is organizing the event, described Denys as "the aerospace guru for county matters."

Also invited to speak is U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Florida), whose congressional district includes Volusia and Flagler counties. Waltz was a leading proponent, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, in what now appears to have been an unsuccessful bid to locate the headquarters for the Department of Defense's proposed U.S. Space Command in Florida.

[READ: Florida reportedly left off short list for Space Command HQ]

Waltz continues to lobby NASA to locate some of the Space Command's operations in the Sunshine State.

Cameron said he is confident that either Waltz or his local district director, Ernie Audino, will be on hand to take part in the upcoming forum.

Space Square has signed up to be one of the event's sponsors, along with Teledyne Marine, the Charles Wayne Company and The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

"It's starting to come about," said Cameron of the efforts to attract companies here that are looking to be part of Florida's growing "Space Triangle" that includes Brevard County, home to Kennedy Space Center and the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, as well as Orlando, home to the University of Central Florida.

With Embry-Riddle's new Micaplex complex, a business incubator for promising aviation/aerospace startups, already full, the outlook is stronger than ever that Volusia County could be poised to attract more commercial space flight-related companies, including parts and components suppliers, said Cameron.

"We're ripe. We're ready," he said.

The arrival of Orbit Beyond, which recently won a $97.7 million contract from NASA to produce a lunar lander capable of being deployed by September of next year, has finally put Volusia County on the map as a destination for aerospace companies in a big way, Cameron and other area business leaders say.

Siba Padhi, the company's CEO, in an interview said his company is shooting to be able to begin operations by the end of this month in a portion of the Raydon Corp. building it is leasing from the Port Orange manufacturer off of Williamson Boulevard.

Waltz told The News-Journal in a written statement, "I'm thrilled to see Florida leading the charge in the 21st century Space Race and I'm excited that such an innovative company like Orbit Beyond chose our community for the location to assemble their lunar landers. I was proud to support funding for NASA's lunar program and I'm looking forward to seeing Orbit Beyond's new facility in (the) Daytona Beach (area)."

Rick Karl, director of Volusia County's aviation and economic resources department, expressed his hope that the success of the Micaplex, combined with the arrival of Orbit Beyond and Hagle's planned Space Square business park, could finally be the impetus to fulfill the county's aspirations of creating an aviation/aerospace industrial park on the several hundred acres of currently unused land at the south end of Daytona Beach International Airport.

"(Aerospace) companies will look to be near other similar companies," said Karl, who is also director of Daytona Beach International Airport.

"The activities at the Cape (Canaveral, where Kennedy Space Center is located) are so much more active than we have experienced in the past," Karl said. "They (private commercial launch companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin) are going to be launching stuff every couple of weeks. We (Daytona Beach) are just approximately 50 miles from the Cape. It's a straight shot down I-95."

While Volusia County business recruiters were unsuccessful in their bid a few years ago to convince Blue Origin to locate its manufacturing operations in Oak Hill, DiBello said he expects to see interest from other aerospace-related companies to pick up soon, not only for that site but for potential sites in other parts of the county as well.

"Even though Oak Hill was a near miss, it wasn't because it was an unattractive site," DiBello said. "The fact that it was vetted (by Blue Origin) as a viable site gained the attention of other aerospace companies. I think that site will come back to life, not by Blue Origin (which ended up choosing a location in Brevard County), but by other aerospace companies. And it's not the only site. You've got the airport and Embry-Riddle, I could go on. Volusia has a lot to offer."

Rodney Cruise, senior vice president for administration and planning at Embry-Riddle, offered a similar assessment.

"With the things happening on the Space Coast, there are other businesses that are going to want to be part of the supply chain," Cruise said. "What will companies like Orbit Beyond need?"

Cruise added that the 10,000-square-foot Micaplex, which is currently fully leased, is home to nine startups.

"We have companies (at the Micaplex) that are in incubation that five years from now could become significant players," Cruise said.

As those startups grow, some could need to relocate to bigger locations elsewhere. That's where Space Square and the proposed aviation/aerospace industrial park at the airport could help to keep those companies in Volusia County, he said.

"Absolutely, there is room for everybody," he said.

The cost to attend the chamber's forum, 3-5 p.m. on Aug. 6, is $25 per person and includes a social networking hour. To make a reservation to attend or for more information, call Jim Cameron at 386-523-3673.

[READ: Rep. Waltz, others focus on utilizing Volusia's assets]

[READ: ERAU's Butler: Sky's no limit for Volusia's growing aerospace sector]

[READ: Micaplex startup to bring 'high-paying jobs' to Volusia]

Clayton Park is business editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal. He can be reached at