Florida boatbuilders await possible defense cuts

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An impasse in Congress over the federal deficit and defense budget cuts could hurt some Florida businesses.

The Navy spent $1 million to help Scott Lewit design and build the prototype of a utility boat that is 40 percent lighter, more fuel-efficient and less likely to injure its crew when it crashes into waves, according to Floridatoday.com.

The project kept him afloat during the recent recession and kept his nearly 40 employees working at the 24-year-old company.

The boatbuilding technology he developed eventually could be adopted commercially, creating a more efficient and more profitable recreational boating industry. But Congress’ inability to compromise threatens to stop progress on this project. It also threatens the huge part of the Brevard County economy that depends on funding from the Defense Department.

Sequestration is the plan Congress set up when it couldn’t agree on the budget in time to avoid a default on the federal debt.

“This has created a lot of uncertainty,” George Cecala, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, told Florida Today. “An across-the-board cut is irresponsible.”

Lewit’s company is one of 1,600 in Brevard County that could be punished if Congress can’t restore the money that sequestration will strip from the budget. The $109 billion in cuts nationwide from the defense budget likely would end thousands of jobs and cut short research that could provide the technology to create new industries. Brevard stands to lose about $300 million, officials tell the publication.

During the recession, Lewit’s company received $1 million in federal contracts to design and build the Navy’s upgraded boat. He’s now working to extend that research and win a $7 million contract to design a shock-absorbing boat for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which would reduce injuries to boat crews and save fuel.

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