Aerospace Days 2012: It's a Numbers Game
By: Jim Hodges
RICHMOND -- After seven years of doing so, Lesa Roe knows how to talk to Virginia's legislators.
Begin with numbers.
"The message that we bring is simple, but powerful," Roe, NASA Langley's center director, told a group of industry leaders and government leaders Thursday in a conference room of the General Assembly Office Building.
"Aerospace is an economic engine that can propel Virginia's economy to new levels," Roe added in an event that punctuated the annual Aerospace Days at the capital. "... In mid-December, aerospace employed more than two million Americans. ... Virginia alone has more than 300 aerospace companies and employs more than 28,000 people.
"The combined economic impact of aeronautics and aerospace in Virginia is $36 billion. ...NASA facilities in Virginia generate more than $1.2 billion alone and 11,000 jobs."
They are numbers that can't be hit hard enough.
Bill Wrobel, director of the Wallops Flight Facility, hit them hard a day earlier when he spoke to the House Appropriations Committee, which wanted to know more about the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport that Virginia helps fund.
The message is similar from year to year, but the numbers change -- always up in an era in which so many economic indicators are down.
"(Roe) feeds our ability to capitalize on aerospace," said Del. Joe May (R-Loudon), a frequent Langley visitor and host of the Aerospace Days visitorsms in Richmond.
"(She helps foster) an awareness among legislators who have to make the decisions about what we do or not do (to support aerospace)."
Earlier May told the crowd, "Virginia isn't noted for rushing into things, but it's rushing into things right now and that's the aerospace industry. ... I guess the bottom-line message here is the aerospace industry is here to stay. It's very much a part of the Virginia landscape ... and we urge you all to join in what I would say is the fun of seeing the aerospace industry grow and prosper. "
It was the message of two days of meetings in which 10 NASA Langley-led teams fanned out among the 100 delegates and 40 senators who form the General Assembly.
The messages were similar in every office.
Del. Lynwood Lewis (D-Virginia 100th) passed information back and forth with Wrobel and Roe. From Accomack County, Lewis has Wallops in his district and keeps up with things like rocket launches. He was aware of an impending announcement from Orbital Science about a test launch of the Antares rocket that is being designed to boost cargo missions to the International Space Station.
Lewis was a prime target -- but hardly the only one -- for Wrobel's pitch about a March event in which five sounding rockets will be launched in rapid-fire order to put chemicals aloft that will enable a science group to study air currents in the upper atmosphere.
The launches are part of the "35 sounding rockets, 15 scientific balloons and seven airplane missions" that will originate from Wallops this year, Wrobel later told the group.
Lewis asked how the upcoming NASA budget would affect Wallops – an answer is no one knows yet -- and Wrobel offered that Wallops and its tenant, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, funded by Virginia and Maryland -- could offer an interesting study in how a merger of federal, state and private funding can work.
Del. Vivian Watts (D-Annandale) spoke of visiting the Kennedy Space Center for a shuttle launch with her 12-year-old grandson and waiting out the launch delay. "Because of the delay, we had four visits to the space center and that gave me a real ability through that 12-year-old's eyes to see all of the many displays and get down into the technology, the precision and all that goes into that," she said.
Watts lauded an IMAX showing of Hubble telescope images, calling them "awesome."
Responded Roe: "You've got our message down."
She later talked about many of the legislators who have joined Watts in viewing a shuttle launch at Kennedy. What looks on the surface like a vacation has a subliminal impact.
"It's hard to get people to listen and understand when you're just talking," Roe said. "When they feel it, it makes a big difference. When they see it with their own eyes, it makes a big difference."
It's opened some doors.
"I can remember the first Aerospace Days, when we would go in and folks would ask, 'who are you and what do you want?' " said Roe. "Now they welcome us into their office and know some of what we are bringing and want to know more. We've made such great strides in the past seven years in educating them in how important this is for Virginia and the nation. And you can see that in their receptiveness to see us."
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