On Space Coast, Signs of Comeback After End of an Era

MELBOURNE, Fla. — The day after the shuttle Atlantis landed for the last time at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, Angel Telles, a man with three master’s degrees, scooped up his white Mission 101 coffee mug and drove away from NASA after 24 years on the job there. The shuttle era had ended, and with it the jobs of 8,000 NASA and civilian workers who found themselves unemployed in the midst of a harsh economic downturn and a crush of home foreclosures. 

So great was the blow to the state and NASA’s traditional space program that it put politicians, including presidential candidates, on the defensive on the campaign trail.

“I mean, it was happening before our very eyeballs,” said Mr. Telles, 50, whose most recent job at NASA was developing requirements for new vehicles, as he recalled his last day at the space center. “This is happening to me? Really? You are in shock.”

“But then,” he added, “you say, ‘I am moving on.’ ”

He did, and finally, this month, Mr. Telles landed a well-paying engineering job with the Harris Corporation, an international telecommunications equipment company. His hiring is the latest sign that nearly two years after Brevard County was left staggering from the one-two punch of the downturn and the demise of the shuttle program, the Space Coast, while still struggling, has defied the bleak predictions.

Private employers on the Space Coast, which includes Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island, have created more than 4,000 jobs since 2010 and have added 1,000 more this year, including jobs in aerospace, aviation, engineering and other high-technology sectors. Companies like Embraer, which makes jets, Northrop Grumman and Rocket Crafters were among those that moved here or expanded. Small businesses are also opening at a faster clip. Housing prices are rising, and the pace of foreclosures is slowing in some areas.

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(photo: Embraer Legacy 500)

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