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Aerospace leader expresses concern over potential loss of industry

February 27, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

California is at risk of losing aerospace companies to other states if it doesn’t become more business-friendly, according to Stuart Witt, general manager of the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Speaking at NextGen Suborbital Research Conference, a commercial space conference in Palo Alto, Witt said that California politicians need to do more so other states don’t lure the emerging commercial space industry away from the Southland.

Just last August, aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp.moved its corporate headquarters from Century City to Falls Church, Va. The company joined an exodus of military companies -- including Lockheed Martin Corp., Science Applications International Corp. and Computer Sciences Corp. -- that have abandoned Southern California since the mid-1990s.

In Mojave, several commercial space ventures, such as Scaled Composites and XCOR Aerospace Inc., are developing spacecraft to lift paying customers into outer space.

“Virginia, Maryland, Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, and other states, with the support of their governors, legislators and business communities, are visiting aerospace businesses at the Mojave Air and Space Port in an effort to recruit them and their highly-skilled jobs to their states," Witt said.

He brought up British billionaire Richard Branson’s commercial space venture Virgin Galactic as an example. The company builds and tests its spacecraft in Mojave, but is headquartered in New Mexico, where former  Gov. Bill Richardson helped build a $209-million space port.

Witt, a former Navy Top Gun pilot, has a laundry list of demands in order for California to attract and retain the industry, which includes legislation to limit liability as the industry develops; tax incentives for investing in companies involved in space-related activities; tax credits for aerospace job creation; cash incentives; and taxpayer-financed infrastructure.

“We need a state commitment to attract aerospace to California rather than letting it continue to erode as it has for the last 30 years," Witt said.

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