DiBello Focuses on Commercial Projects, Hopes to Wean Florida Off Dependence on NASA

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The Orlando Sentinel reports on efforts by Space Florida President Frank DiBello to turn around his moribund state agency and help stem the job losses that will hit the Space Coast when NASA retires the space shuttle:

He has canceled consultants’ contracts, fired his Washington-based lobbying firm, abandoned — at least for now — the agency’s ambitious plans to create a public-private spaceport and is cutting staff. He has also refocused the agency on projects — however small — that can create jobs and preserve at least some of the launch and high-tech rocket-processing skills that have been honed during the past three decades.

“I inherited an organization that sucks up the budget by itself just with the staff it has. So between the contracts it had and the size of the organization, there’s no money for projects,” DiBello said. “Without projects, there can be no hope.”

But his plans to attract more diversified aerospace and technology industries to Florida require money and time — and DiBello doesn’t have either. The agency’s budget has dropped from $7 million in 2007 to $3.8 million this year, with further cuts likely. And many of his ideas — which have earned widespread support from industry executives, space workers and politicians — are dependent on legislative appropriations in one of the leanest budget years in history.

Last week, DiBello got Gov. Charlie Crist to visit Port Canaveral to talk with industry executives, in hopes the governor would use the opportunity to announce the creation of a $100 million space-technology-investment fund. But Crist offered the group little more than platitudes.

DiBello remains optimistic in spite of the challenges. He is a strong supporter of commercial space ventures, and has been focusing on projects that do not involve dependence on NASA.

“We cannot continue to look just at NASA,” DiBello says. “We have to diversify the state’s industry and sources of funding. A lot of space-related technologies share much wider applications, and we need to go after that business and those research dollars.”

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