All Texans will benefit from a growing space industry

Texas has a rich history in space exploration and discovery. From Space Race-era NASA facilities, such as the Johnson Space Center in Houston, to more modern endeavors such as SpaceX’s research and development facility outside of Waco and its launch facility in Boca Chica, the Lone Star State has led in this industry for nearly six decades.

In 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a new report by the Texas Economic Development Corporation estimate that a significant portion of the fast-growing private space sector is located in Texas, generating big benefits for Texans from an industry that Morgan Stanley projects will become a $1 trillion industry in less than 20 years.

The Texas space industry, by the figures

  • The U.S. space industry currently employs 1.3 million Americans. Texans hold 150,000 of those jobs, accounting for more than one out of 10 of all the space industry jobs nationwide.
  • The average annual wage for Texas space workers is $98,482, putting it well above the state’s average annual wage of $54,230.
  • Texas is also a leader in aerospace manufacturing, with 18 of the 20 largest aerospace manufacturing companies in the world operating in Texas, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and more.
  • But the future of the space industry is not just about the biggest of companies. There are more than 1,800 aerospace companies located across the state.

The benefits of space exploration are not only about the jobs of today, but about the jobs of tomorrow as well. Many of those jobs will happen because of the many and significant research and development projects currently happening on the campuses of the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at El Paso, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University, to name a few.

However, from Colorado to Alabama to Florida, other states are aggressively bolstering the space industries within their borders. And they’re backing up their ambitious talk with incentives and resources to match their ambitions.

To stay ahead in this race, Texas needs a strategic plan that explores the enormity of this opportunity and sets out steps to capitalize on it — through a Lone Star Space Plan.

A three-part plan to ensure Texas’ space leadership

In a 2021 opinion column, Texas 2036 President and CEO Margaret Spellings, retired astronaut Col. Tim Kopra, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez and Texas 2036 Board Member Maynard Holt laid out a three-step plan to ensure Texas’ continued leadership in the aerospace industry.

  • First, Texas needs to align and coordinate state and local governments, identifying ways to streamline regulation and processes. Texans’ resourcefulness, innovation and entrepreneurial approach can give this growing industry the speed and flexibility to thrive.
  • Second, the state needs to look hard at how it can attract industry leaders. That doesn’t equate to the state giving money away to companies with no oversight. Rather, it means being realistic about looking at the support that other states are offering there and making sure that our unique strengths, resources and attributes provide a competitive advantage.
  • Finally, and most importantly, attracting and growing the space industry requires a strong education-to-workforce pipeline. Private-sector leaders in this and other industries can provide valuable insight into the jobs of the future and the skills Texans will need to fill them.

As the authors concluded, the states that lead in the space-age economy won’t be the ones with the most eye-popping incentive packages, they’ll be the ones that compete most strongly on the fundamentals of talent, resources and can-do government capabilities.

If Texas charts the right course in the new space race, the benefits will go far beyond the space industry. Indeed, an advanced and well-planned workforce strategy will propel every part of our economy and fortify Texas’ strength and leadership for another century.

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