Vandenberg’s regional economic impact could grow to $6 billion, REACH study shows

New Study Shows That Expected Growth Could Add 1,968 New Jobs Per Year Across Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties

Vandenberg — newly renamed a Space Force Base — powers 16,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4.5 billion in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties — a number that could grow to more than $6 billion over the next decade.

That’s among the topline findings of a new study, commissioned by REACH and conducted by Cal Poly, assessing the base’s current contributions to the regional and state economy and modeling the impact of expected future growth in military and commercial activity. The economic impact study was funded in partnership with the County of Santa Barbara.

Conservative estimates show that growth could add 1,968 new jobs per year in key industries such as professional, scientific and technical services as well as construction and administrative services.

“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 and lead author of the study.

The base supplies quality jobs, stimulates the production of goods and services, and increases local incomes and overall expenditures on goods and services across the two counties, the study found. It also plays a critical role in retaining high-paying and long-term jobs in the region and spurs significant tax revenues to local and state governments.

“This study really illuminates the many and far-reaching ripple effects of having the nation’s premier West Coast launch site in our backyard,” REACH COO Andrew Hackleman said. “The future growth projections also underscore the big payoff of supporting the burgeoning commercial space industry around the base and into San Luis Obispo County.”

Commercial space activities at the base, growing since the early 2000s, are on an upward trajectory with record private investment and a new National Space Strategy highlighting partnership with the private sector as essential to national security, economic prosperity and scientific knowledge.

“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, Delta Space Launch 30 Commander. “Vandenberg is proud of its long history in the community and looks forward to building on that relationship to assure access to space for the U.S. Space Force and our Nation.”

REACH has partnered with the 30th Space Wing, County of Santa Barbara, Cal Poly State University, Deloitte and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) to develop a master plan for commercial space on the Central Coast, with the first phase expected to be finalized in coming weeks.

“High-quality, future-oriented jobs are what we need in the region, and this study shows expanding space activity at Vandenberg can provide that,” said Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann, whose Third District encompasses the base and Vandenberg Village. “We should embrace that expansion, including prioritizing the planning and infrastructure needed to unlock job growth.”

Several such projects, from on-base launch pad improvements to off-base roads and utility connections, are underway or under consideration.

“As long-time neighbors of the base, we recognize the foundational role Vandenberg plays in our economy and look forward to continuing to work with the base on ways we can help one another grow,” Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne said.

Direct economic contributions by Vandenberg include employment of military and federal civilian personnel, defense contracting and capital investment, with indirect contributions that include enhancing regional household expenditures and demand by local businesses, the study states.

Other impacts stem from:

  • The base’s retired military personnel and veterans, who mostly stay in the area and boost the local economy through direct spending and contributing valuable skills as employees for local industries and as small businesses owners
  • Expenditures by a sizable number of government and business visitors to the base
  • Thousands of tourists are attracted each year by frequent missile and rocket launches.

The study noted several benefits of expanded military and commercial space activity at the base beyond total economic impact and job creation, including:

  • Creating more long-term, higher-paying jobs, which have been growing more slowly than lower-paying jobs in Santa Barbara and SLO counties
  • Increasing employment opportunities in central Santa Barbara County and significantly contributing to reducing income disparities within the county
  • Pushing up wages in the aerospace, defense and transportation manufacturing sector, which have been stagnant in the region
  • Providing avenues for the region to retain and attract high-skilled talent, including graduates of UC-Santa Barbara and Cal Poly.

“We have a significant opportunity here. We should be looking at some of our one-time cannabis tax revenue as well as infrastructure funding and COVID-19 stimulus to do what we can to accelerate the economic engine of Vandenberg Air Force Base,” said Santa Barbara County Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.

Find the full study here.