Clear Lake area's feeling NASA's pain
For decades, NASA and the Johnson Space Center have been the lifeblood of the Clear Lake community, fueling home sales and providing brisk business for the many restaurants, grocery stores and retail shops that call the region home.
That time-tested economic stability is now being put to the test, with the Obama administration's proposal to end the next-generation Constellation program and to terminate the shuttle program after five more flights, even as the overall budget is increased.
Randy Hector, owner of Space Center Souvenirs, 710 NASA Parkway, wonders whether his 30-year-old business would be able to weather the proposed changes to NASA's priorities.
The shop has just about everything that a space fan could want, from lapel pins, to patches of every mission and even commemorative plates, T-shirts, posters, caps and toys.
It's going to hurt us a bunch," Hector said. Without the Constellation and shuttle programs, I may lose my job."
The Bay Area Economic Partnership predicts that up to 2,500 people could lose their jobs when Constellation is canceled, including engineers and support personnel such as human resources and computer procurement specialists.
But that's only a part of the picture, said Bob Mitchell, the partnership's president.
The question is what happens in September, when the shuttle retires," Mitchell said. When that happens, we are going to lose in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,200 jobs. And with no Constellation to move those employees into, that number could easily be 5,000 after September."
The potential job losses would have a substantial indirect impact on the area's economy, Mitchell said, affecting businesses that depend on the NASA community to stay afloat.
When you lose that number of direct employees that are high salaried, those are the ones who go to the cosmetic surgeons, they go to the cleaners every day, they go to the restaurants and shop at the retail stores, and they go to the insurance agents to buy their insurance," he said.
Chi Z, manager of Masa Sushi Japanese Restaurant, 977 NASA Parkway, said she's trying to stay positive in light of the troubling developments. The eatery employs about 25 full-time and part-time personnel. She hopes she won't have to initiate layoffs.
I'm working very hard to keep my business and we try not to do it," she said.
If NASA cutbacks happen, that means there are less people for lunchtime and less people at gas stations, at grocery stores and shopping. It will hurt the businesses."
Beverly Smith, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty, said if the Clear Lake economy takes a big hit from the proposed NASA cutbacks, people in entry-level homes likely would downsize to an apartment, while those in million-dollar waterfront homes may downsize to a $200,000 home.
I'm very concerned about people who are living from paycheck to paycheck and who don't have the resources to tide them over until they find something else," Smith said.
Meanwhile, officials at the Clear Creek Independent School District are monitoring the developments closely.
The 37,000-plus student school district plans to open two new schools this fall Clear Falls High School and Bayside Intermediate School, both in League City.
The NASA Johnson Space Center is critical to our success as a school district," Superintendent Greg Smith said in a prepared statement.
It is too early to speculate what specific impact this will have on Clear Creek ISD since the budget has not been passed.
We are monitoring the national developments as well as engaged in local discussions on how we, as a district, can be a part of the solution."
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