EDC'S LYNDA WEATHERMAN: The Cocoa Campus expansion demonstrates our community is committed to developing a robust talent pipeline.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Eastern Florida State College’s plan to invest $87 million in new academic buildings on its Cocoa Campus over the next decade will be a major “economic engine” that spurs growth and development in central Brevard County according to Space Coast government and business development leaders.
The new facilities and campus improvements included in the 10-year Master Plan will be a major benefit to students studying in an array of high-tech, healthcare and other fields.
The $87 million investment will also serve as a catalyst for economic growth and development in the City of Cocoa and other areas of central Brevard County, including the aerospace industry at the Kennedy Space Center.
That’s the consensus from Space Coast economic development officials and City of Cocoa leaders who say the plan will educate more students in state-of-the-art facilities to meet the workforce needs of local industry.
That will help companies expand their ranks and grow. It will also help attract more new companies because the firms will know the Cocoa Campus is creating a steady stream of skilled workers.
“One of the top priorities for businesses looking to expand or relocate to Florida’s Space Coast is workforce, particularly within aerospace, engineering and advanced manufacturing,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.
“In addition to attracting talent, it is essential we cultivate talent locally. The Cocoa Campus expansion demonstrates our community is committed to developing a robust talent pipeline.”
Announced in April, Eastern Florida State College’s plan is the largest single investment the college has ever made on its four campuses.
It calls for a new Advanced Manufacturing Center; new Science building with classrooms and labs; renovated Health Sciences Center; student housing; new Planetarium; and major improvements to the grounds.
WATCH: This year marks Dr. James Richey’s 10th at the school now known – thanks to him – as Eastern Florida State College. In a decade, Dr. Richey has catapulted EFSC to the top echelon of Florida’s institutions of higher learning.
Eastern Florida State College President Dr. Jim Richey says the plan will transform the campus, making it a linchpin of Space Coast and City of Cocoa economic development efforts.
Others agree, including Cocoa Mayor Michael Blake.
“It’s the single biggest thing Cocoa has seen in recent memory,” said Blake. “It will become one of the economic engines in the Clearlake region, spurring direct and indirect jobs, and be a backbone to the entire city. We’re very supportive of it.”
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Currently, Cocoa’s economic development efforts are making steady progress in the northwest part of the city and Cocoa Village with new businesses, apartments and hotels opening or planned. The Cocoa Campus plan can provide that same spark in the Clearlake area where the campus is located, Blake said.
The new academic buildings and student housing will attract more students to campus. That can result in more off- campus housing built and new restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses opening to support the students, faculty and staff, he said.
“There’s so much that’s going to change in that area in the next five years. There’s a great synergy there and the campus is a big player in that,” Blake said.
The transformed campus might also help the city convince Brightline to build a station on Clearlake Road and State Road 524 for its Orlando-to-Miami high-speed train, something the city has been advocating.
Among other benefits, potential students in east Orange County could hop on the train at Orlando International Airport and be at the campus in about 20 minutes. That’s easier than fighting traffic gridlock in Orlando to attend UCF or other city colleges, said Angela Essing, the city’s Director of Growth and Economic Development.
“An expanded campus and more students potentially means more ridership,” she said.
Cocoa City Councilwoman Lorraine Koss, whose district includes the campus, is equally enthusiastic. For example, she said the upgraded campus will tie in perfectly with more than $20 million in improvements planned for Clearlake Road that acts as the campus’s front door.
“Nothing will make more of a difference in that area of the city and its neighborhoods. I see the potential for a lot of development, a real renaissance there,” she said.
To Weatherman, the campus’ enhanced focus on high-tech facilities and training will be central to the EDC’s work to attract new companies in commercial space, robotics, and satellite and rocket manufacturing. Additionally. there are mid-sized companies in the Cocoa Campus area that can benefit as well.
“In trying to attract new companies, we win it or lose it based on workforce. The improved campus with its new buildings and expanded programs will help us make our case. It’s gives us the ultimate competitive advantage,” Weatherman said.
An example of that advantage can be seen in growing apprenticeship programs for Cocoa Campus students with local industry, including major commercial space companies at the Kennedy Space Center.
Apprentices split their time between attending on-campus classes in aerospace technology, mechatronics, advanced machining and hands-on work with the companies, said Brian Kamm, Founder and Lead Advisor for the Space Coast Consortium Apprenticeship Program.
A dozen companies, including Blue Origin and Airbus OneWeb Satellites, participate now. Kamm wants to expand the number to 20 in 2023.
“To do that, we need more facilities, more equipment and more instructors. The Cocoa Campus plan moves that forward in a major way. As an alum of the college, I’m thrilled to see it happening. It couldn’t come at a better time,” Kamm said.
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