Growth during next decade could lead to benefits totaling $6B for SB, SLO communities
By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
Vandenberg Space Force Base accounts for a $4.5 billion economic impact annually in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, but that value could grow in the coming decade to reach $6 billion based on forecasts.
On Friday, the same day Vandenberg was renamed to note its role in the U.S. Space Force, a study revealed the installation’s contribution to the regional and state economies — and forecast how future plans could benefit.
“What we found is what many people in communities around the base already know — that Vandenberg provides substantial positive economic benefits well beyond its borders and that its anticipated future growth presents even greater economic opportunities to nearby counties and the state as a whole,” said Dr. Cyrus Ramezani, a finance professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and lead author of the study.
The base is responsible for 16,000 direct and indirect jobs in the two counties, the study noted.
According to estimates, 1,968 new jobs per year could be added in key careers such as professional, scientific and technical services as well as construction and administrative services.
However, longtime Santa Barbara County residents know that programs planned for Vandenberg often never materialize. Additionally, the axe can fall abruptly on programs — such as the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, the West Coast space shuttle and American Rocket Co. — before any liftoffs because of government cancellations or financial woes, especially among commercial firms.
“The analysis undertaken in this report showed that the economic impact of VAFB on the surrounding communities and the State of California will grow over the next decade by the anticipated increase in military activity on the base, the potential infrastructure improvements in the City of Lompoc, and the proposed private-sector commercial space activities envisioned in the Commercial Space Master Plan,” the report states.
The first phase of that plan, a multiagency effort, should be released in the coming weeks, REACH officials said. One proposal calls for building a business park outside Vandenberg’s security area to foster aerospace and technology firms as the base looks to become “the spaceport of the future.”
“Vandenberg is excited to be launching into a new era of cooperation with commercial partners to further national security strategic interests while contributing to the economic vitality of the region,” said Col. Anthony Mastalir, commander of the base’s renamed primary unit, Space Launch Delta 30.
The study also noted that retired military personnel and veterans, who remain on the Central Coast, boost the local economy through direct spending and contributing valuable skills as employees for local industries and as small-businesses owners.
Additionally, local communities benefit from a sizable number of government and business visitors to the base along with tourists attracted to the area for missile tests and rocket launches. Both employees and tourists fill hotel rooms, rent vehicles and eat at local restaurants, providing a boost to the economy.
The study identified several benefits of growing military and commercial space activity at the base beyond total economic impact and job creation.
Those include creating more long-term, higher-paying jobs, which have been growing more slowly than lower-paying jobs in the two counties and increasing employment opportunities while helping reduce income disparities in the county.
More activity at Vandenberg also would mean additional avenues to retain and attract high-skilled talent, including graduates of UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly.
“This study really illuminates the many and far-reaching ripple effects of having the nation’s premier West Coast launch site in our backyard,” said Andrew Hackleman, REACH chief operating officer.