Wallops Initiative Touted For Jobs, Economic Impact

BERLIN – Ground was broken this week on new launch facilities at NASA’s nearby Wallops Island Flight Facility, setting in motion a chain of events that will ultimately provide an shot for Worcester County and the Lower Shore in terms of jobs and economic development.

On Monday, federal, state and local officials, including Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, were at Wallops to break ground on new launch facilities to support the Orbital Science Corporation’s work on the Taurus II space launch vehicle that will be used to resupply the International Space Station after NASA retires its space shuttle program. When the launch facilities are completed, Orbital’s unmanned Taurus II rockets will be launched from Wallops several times a year to deliver needed supplies to the International Space Station.

On Monday, Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds science, technology and space exploration including NASA, said at the groundbreaking the partnership between the private and public sectors would produce a fiscal boon for the entire shore.

“As the nation’s only NASA-owned launch site, the Wallops Island Flight Facility is a centerpiece of our space and science infrastructure,” Mikulski said. “This is even more true today with NASA’s investment to make Wallops the home of its space station resupply effort after the shuttles are retired. It means Wallops will be a world-class, international facility, launching critical supplies to our astronauts in space and also launching new jobs and new sustainable economic growth on the Eastern Shore.”

On Tuesday, during a far less formal round-table meeting with the County Commissioners at the Ocean Pines Library, Mikulski continued to sing the praises of the new initiative at Wallops and what it could mean for the county and the entire Lower Shore. She explained the project would create 250 construction jobs immediately and as many as 400 high-tech jobs as soon as 2010, many of which will go to qualified local residents. In addition, the project is expected to inject $250 million in economic development in the immediate area surrounding the NASA facility including Worcester in the form of jobs, new goods and services and contracts for small businesses.

“It started yesterday with the official groundbreaking, which was just a great day for Worcester County and the entire Eastern Shore,” Mikulski told the County Commissioners on Tuesday. “This isn’t just a promise anymore. We broke ground on the launch pad and this is the real deal.”

Mikulski said the groundbreaking on Monday immediately created 250 construction jobs, and “not just pouring cement,” many of which would be filled by local residents. Down the road, roughly 400 high-tech jobs will be created by the project, a large portion of which will go to Marylanders. Mikulski estimated about 35 percent of the workforce tied to the new initiative would live in Maryland and those employees would buy homes, support local businesses and pay taxes in the county.

Mikulski told the commissioners Orbital’s long-term plan frequent launches of the Taurus II rockets. Major launch events at Wallops can often be seen throughout the resort area already, and frequent launches of the massive Taurus II rockets could generate new interest in the facility as a tourist attraction.

“The first launch is 18 to 20 months away, but when they get up and going, there could be a launch as frequently as once a month,” she said. “It will in and of itself become a tourist attraction and we think it’s going to be a big boon here.”