NASA facility to boost New Orleans economy
NEW ORLEANS – The route to the moon and perhaps to Mars now goes through New Orleans – and the detour couldn’t come at a better time in the city’s struggle to rebuild its shattered economy after Hurricane Katrina. With thousands of houses still in ruins and its population reduced by almost 170,000, a boost is on the way for New Orleans in the form of high-wage jobs and contracts for next-generation space systems at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. Before the storm, New Orleans’ economy thrived on low-wage tourism. But the $156 million payroll at Michoud – some salaries are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – generates paychecks significantly above the city’s median annual income of about $27,000. Michoud, in the city’s eastern section, had a cloudy future before the storm struck in August 2005: The space shuttle fuel tanks it used to turn out won’t be needed after the shuttle program ends in 2010, and there was no sure replacement for one of the region’s largest payrolls. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonThe outlook is much brighter now that three contracts associated with NASA’s Constellation program have landed this year and last at Michoud. James Bray, director of Lockheed Martin’s Orion project at Michoud, called the facility “a sleeping giant” for the New Orleans economy. “It’s been a jewel that a lot of people pass on the interstate and don’t really realize is here,” Bray said. “But if you look at the population of New Orleans and Slidell and along the Gulf Coast, you find very technical, qualified people that come into here and make the space program go.” Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin will build the Orion crew module at the 43-acre plant. And Chicago-based Boeing Co. will build the $1.13 billion upper stage of the Ares I launch rocket and the rocket’s $799.5million navigation and control system there. With 2,400 workers, Michoud is an economic force in a section of the city that was hit hard by Katrina and has been slow to recover. “For New Orleans east, it’s one of the big players. If you look around at who has the number of jobs, and the number of high paying jobs, you’re not going to find much in New Orleans east that’s even going to come close,” said Louisiana State University economist Loren Scott. “This type of facility that uses high-wage, high-skill jobs tends to create other types of jobs.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!