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Rocket Company Leases 1M SF As Long Beach Aerospace Industry Takes Off Again

Two years after the sale of a former Long Beach Boeing manufacturing site, a new tenant is touching down. 

Relativity Space has signed a long-term lease for the 1M SF, 93-acre site near the Long Beach Airport, and the property, owned by Goodman Group, will serve as a factory and the headquarters for Relativity, which designs and 3D-prints rockets.

A rendering of the new headquarters in Long Beach, adjacent to the Long Beach Airport.

“Securing this space for Relativity Headquarters, which is now one of the largest facilities in private space, right here in Long Beach, is key for scaling out our Terran R program, while also continuing to tap into the unparalleled talent here to join us on our mission,” Relativity Space CEO and co-founder Tim Ellis said in a statement, referring to the 3D-printed and fully reusable rocket that the company announced earlier this year.

The rocket will be a competitor with the Falcon 9 rocket produced by SpaceX, which leases space at the Port of Long Beach.

“When this space came into the picture, it was clear that it was perfect for us,” Ellis told Bisnow in an email. 

“There are a lot of attributes associated with this development that attracted us to this property in the first place and that have significant value to companies in the space technology segment of the market,” said Ward Mace, Goodman Group vice president of entitlements and construction, Southwest Region.

The property was where Boeing built C-17 military transport aircraft. Design elements like column spacing, bay spacing and the large, rolling doors that remain in the building from its previous use are all attractive to a lot of companies working in Relativity’s field, Mace said. 

Goodman purchased the property in June 2019, paying over $200M. It is the only Long Beach property that the Australia-based company owns, though it has 369 properties under management globally. 

The property is within an area around the Long Beach Airport covered by the Globemaster Corridor Specific Plan. In the works since 2014, when it became clear that Boeing would be closing down C-17 manufacturing operations at the facility, the plan reimagines what is possible across 437 acres surrounding the airport. It was approved in May, the Long Beach Post reported.

"We took it very seriously on the planning side,” Long Beach Deputy Director of Development Services Christopher Koontz said. “It’s not just trying to create some pretty buildings. It’s really about the city’s employment future and economic future. It’s about having opportunities for residents to have some great jobs here in the city.” 

Aerospace manufacturing has been a part of Long Beach’s history since World War II, with Douglas Aircraft Co. and McDonnell Aircraft Corp. getting their starts there. When they merged in the 1960s to become McDonnell Douglas, they built a new plant in Long Beach, according to Globemaster plan documents. Boeing came to town in the mid-1990s and continued to manufacture commercial planes in Long Beach until 2006 and military planes until 2015.

An aerial view of the 437 acres near the Long Beach Airport that are covered by the Globemaster plan

The Globemaster plan aims to build a new version of the strong economic base that was around the airport in the Boeing heyday. Because of the plan, the area is now zoned to accommodate commercial, industrial, business park and airport uses. That means that in the future, there could be anything from hotels to retail to restaurants in parts of the plan area as well as new manufacturing uses.

Relativity already has and will maintain a 120K SF space in Long Beach that houses its business operations and manufacturing space. It plans to expand in Long Beach. Its new headquarters will have the capacity for more than 2,000 employees and will be home to dozens of the company’s Stargate 3D printers, which it bills as the largest metal 3D printers in the world. 

“We were intent on building our footprint in Long Beach,” Ellis said, citing the city’s talent pool and status as an innovation hub.

Long Beach’s history as hub for aerospace manufacturing has seen a resurgence, thanks to a number of space-related businesses setting up shop. Virgin Orbit, a spinoff of Virgin Galactic, has occupied space since 2015 in the airport-adjacent Douglas Park, a commercial park north of the airport. Virgin Orbit is focused on launching small, low-Earth orbit satellites.

Not far from Virgin Orbit is spaceflight company SpinLaunch, which moved from Silicon Valley to Long Beach in 2019. Rocket Lab, also a small-satellite launch company, has its corporate headquarters and a rocket manufacturing plant in Long Beach.

Aerospace support companies like Morf3D, which 3D-prints parts for aerospace companies, are also moving in. Morf3D signed a 90K SF lease in Long Beach in May. 

Long Beach has seen a 48% increase in aerospace jobs since 2018 for a total of 4,000 jobs in aerospace, according to Seiji Steimetz, chair of Economics and director of the Office of Economic Research at California State University, Long Beach. 

If companies in the aerospace support industry like Morf3D are included, that number is estimated to be around 6,500, Steimetz said, citing data from the California Employment Development Department that hasn't been published publicly but is approved for public release.

Of all employment in Long Beach, 2.7% is in aerospace, Steimetz found. He said that is equivalent to the share of all employment held by grocery and food and beverage stores in the city. 

“There's this impression that the aerospace in Long Beach has more or less died,” Steimetz said. Although employment in the sector is not as robust as it was a decade or two ago, “aerospace never disappeared. Aerospace has been and still is a very strong part of the Long Beach economy and an important employer.”