Sometime in the next few months the Federal Aviation Administration will open a competition that could dramatically change the future for technology and aerospace jobs along the Highway 101 corridor.
The competition will be to pick six demonstration sites for the FAA to use to develop ways for unmanned vehicles, or drones, and onboard-piloted aircraft to coexist in the nation’s airspace.
Right now, the feds and privacy advocates are trying to hammer out rules of the road that would keep the drones from spying on individuals and violating constitutionally protected rights. But it seems inevitable that drones will take their place in the skies alongside private and commercial aircraft and Ventura County is viewed as one of the best places in the nation to locate a test site.
The reasons for Ventura County’s emergence as a top test site are many. First there is the already secure air space off San Nicholas Island, used by the Navy to test weapons.
Second, there is the airfield at Point Mugu which could be a useful takeoff, landing and storage spot for drones. There is the weather and the proximity to the large Simi Valley facilities of AeroVironment, a leading drone maker that is technically based in Monrovia.
Bill Buratto, head of Ventura County Economic Development Association, thinks the benefits could be huge. He told me a successful applicant could count on getting a share of some $1 billion that Congress has appropriated for the six test areas and each of the six winners is likely to emerge as “an important hub” for the drone industry.
According to one study, drones already contribute $20 billion to the SoCal economy and employ about 10,000 people.
The spinoff possibilities for scientists from Ventura County universities as well as UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo are enormous. And having a test bed nearby could greatly benefit our sensor makers and sensor component makers including Teledyne and Raytheon.
Buratto already has enlisted Naval Base Ventura County, County executive Mike Powers, the sheriff and fire chief in the effort. In California competition is likely to come from China Lake, which won a partial victory over NBVC in the latest round of base closings.
As one industry publication put it this is “a high stakes game.” Among the things at stake — the future of technology jobs in Ventura County and beyond.
Wishing WellPoint a speedy recovery
When former WellPoint CEO Leonard Schaeffer sold the parent of Blue Cross of California to Indiana-based Anthem a number of years ago, he handed Anthem the keys to a formidable competitor.
WellPoint was a well-run company that responded to market conditions, dominated its space and understood its mission. Schaeffer was both an innovator and a cheapskate, an effective mix in a dynamic and complex industry. WellPoint shareholders were well-rewarded, and the Thousand Oaks-based company was a major employer in Ventura County.
Over the years, Anthem took the WellPoint name but badly managed the franchise. Blue Cross of California has been castigated for hyper-aggressive policies, its administrative costs have exceeded Obamacare guidelines, and its CEO Angela Braly has come under fire for the company’s poor financial performance and stumbling stock price. Amid all this have been major job cuts at its Ventura County operation and the Blue Cross flag has been moved to Woodland Hills.
Thankfully, Braly stepped down Aug. 28 under extreme pressure from shareholders, and a search for new management has begun. Maybe they can find another Leonard Schaeffer to turn things around.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]