Florida is known for its sun soaked beaches, vacation and spring break hot spots, and of course, its retirement communities. The state is also among the most strategically important states for the U.S. Armed Forces, with installations from Pensacola to Jacksonville and down to Key West.

Every business in Florida is within 100 miles of a military installation, while the defense sector itself brings billions of dollars in economic activity to the state.

This month Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the results of the 2020 Florida Military and Defense Economic Impact Study, which found that industries grew by $10 billion and added more than 100,000 jobs since 2017. The study, which was commissioned by Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI) and the Florida Defense Support Task Force (FDSTF) highlighted that the defense sector provides 914,787 jobs in the “Sunshine State,” while it also boasts the second-largest military retiree population and third-largest veteran population in the nation. Florida is currently home to more than 1.6 million veterans and military retirees.

The report highlighted the fact that federal dollars associated with supporting each of these components added up to nearly $44 billion in direct defense spending in 2018.

“The results of this study demonstrate that maintaining and protecting military bases and industry in Florida is a win-win for both Florida and the United States,” said Governor DeSantis via a statement. “Florida offers unmatched conditions for training air and sea forces with access to some of the highest quality test and training ranges in the country. Florida’s military and defense industry has never been more vital to the economic success of our state.”

This 5th bi-annual update of the study measured the total economic impact associated with defense-related spending flowing into the Florida economy. This update utilized consistent econometric forecasting models and defense-related spending flows to compare the performance of the defense industry every two years.

State of Defense in Florida

Florida receives the fourth-largest sum of defense contracts, while it ranks fifth in the country in number of active duty military personnel. There are now 60,155 active duty service members as well as approximately 30,000 civilians working across the states’ military installations. Private sector defense contracts performed in the state supported just over 73,000 contractors.

Wages in the military and defense industry pay significantly higher than the statewide average. Currently, the average earnings per military job in the state is more than $77,000, making military and defense one of the most high-wage employers. The state received nearly $44 billion in direct defense spending in 2018; while salaries brought an additional $7.6 billion (17%) to Florida; and procurement spending brought an additional $17.5 billion (40%), which is up by $3.5 billion from 2016.

The report highlighted that defense manufacturing has doubled since 2015, and this growth shows no signs of slowing down in 2020.

Just this week the United States Navy awarded aerospace company Leonardo with a $176 million firm-fixed price contract to replace its TH-57B/C Sea helicopters. The company, which is headquartered in Philadelphia, will be the anchor tenant and first client to Santa Rosa County’s Whiting Aviation Park where it will build a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

“(This) announcement is great news for Florida,” said Jamal Sowell, Florida Secretary of Commerce and Enterprise Florida President & CEO. “Enterprise Florida and the Florida Defense Support Task Force will continue to maintain Florida’s reputation as the most military-friendly state in the nation by strengthening our state’s support for military members and their families and ensuring our bases remain resilient.”

Space to Grow

Given its long history with both manned and unmanned space flight, Florida could also be well-positioned to play a significant role in the nation’s up-and-coming Space Force.

Last week the Space Florida Board of Directors approved $200,000 for Satellite Beach-based GTOPS Inc., a veteran-owned business that provides facilities-support services, to showcase how military bases and businesses in the Sunshine State could support the training and equipping of the new military branch.

Florida is among the states competing for the command headquarters of the Space Force, which will have an initial job of protecting satellites and other hardware already in space. President Donald Trump has asked Congress for $8 billion during the phase-in period for the Space Force.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.