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Oklahoma Is Reaching New Heights

Article by Anne Cosgrove, Business Facilities’ July / August 2023 Issue

The Oklahoma business climate is vibrant with growth of traditional industries invigorated with other sectors in more nascent stages. Economic development projects announced in 2022 and led by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce are expected to bring more than 7,000 new jobs and $3.7 billion in new private investment. Among the projects announced were securing the first domestic rare earth metal and magnet manufacturing facility; attracting foreign direct investment at the Oklahoma Air & Space Port; and a bevy of programs and resources bolstered and created with a focus on workforce development; startups; supply chain; and infrastructure.

Also in 2022, Commerce set out to bring more opportunities to small businesses with a focus on rural areas of the state while also continuing to attract investment through sector-based economic development.

The aerospace and defense sector is surging in the state, with Governor Kevin Stitt and local leaders announcing last fall that Premium Aerospace Center (PAC) would locate its international headquarters at the Oklahoma Air & Space Port complex in Burns Flat. PAC will invest several million dollars to renovate and expand two existing hangars and build a third hangar there. The company estimates as many as 600 new jobs to be added.

In Oklahoma City, Raytheon Technologies business Pratt & Whitney announced in April it will invest $255 million to develop a new aerospace facility in the state’s capital. Through 2028, the company will establish an 845,000-square-foot, sustainment facility as a depot operations hub for all Pratt & Whitney military engines, including those for the F-35, C-17, F-22, F-15, F-16, B-52, and E-3 AWACS. The planned investment will increase its MRO capabilities as programs expand, serving as the only site capable of performing all F135 power module scope levels.

“Pratt & Whitney’s Oklahoma City site plays a critical role in our global sustainment network,” said Jill Albertelli, President, Pratt & Whitney Military Engines. “Last year, the team achieved record output for the F117, F119, and F135 Heavy Maintenance Centers—this investment in a new facility will further expand our capabilities and reaffirm our commitment to our customer for years to come. We are grateful for the support provided by our partner, the United States Air Force, and by the state of Oklahoma and the local community.”

More recently, Oklahoma State University and partners—including Tulsa Innovation Labs and the Osage Nation—opened the LaunchPad Center for Advanced Air Mobility at OSU-Tulsa’s Helmerich Research Center (HRC). The LaunchPad Center resources will promote development of technologies in advanced air mobility.

Local, tribal, state and national leaders—including representatives from the Department of Defense, Tinker Air Force Base, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Economic Development Administration—were on hand for the event in June.

“A key pillar of Oklahoma State University’s strategy is leading in aerospace and aviation innovation, but we know our success is shared success,” OSU President Kayse Shrum said. “This is why we are so excited about our strategic partnerships with NASA, Tulsa Innovation Labs, and Osage LLC, an Osage Nation enterprise. Additionally, the U.S. Economic Development Administration recognizes that taking Oklahoma’s aerospace and aviation to the next level has national benefits, and we appreciate the agency’s critical support.”

The LaunchPad Center will support development and deployment of emerging aviation technologies, including unmanned aerial systems. Given Tulsa’s strategic position as an urban hub in a rural region, the LaunchPad Center will also focus on developing new air transportation systems to safely and sustainably move people and goods in places currently underserved by aviation, including rural and tribal communities.

LaunchPad’s first industry partner, WindShape, will create an environmental test facility, gathering data on any conditions UAS will experience while in flight, in a controlled laboratory environment.

The LaunchPad Center is one of four projects under the new Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility (TRAM) Cluster, which received $38.2 million in funding from the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. This grant also created the Skyway Range, a flight test facility which connects the Osage Nation and its enterprises’ Skyway36 Droneport in Tulsa, OSU’s Unmanned Aircraft Flight Station near Stillwater, and two additional nodes in the region to create an asset for testing and evaluation of new technologies.

OSU has also signed the Space Act Agreement to expand opportunities for education, workforce development, and research. Marking 55 years of partnership, under the agreement OSU and NASA will work together to facilitate joint research, technology transfer, technology development, and educational outreach. The overarching goal is to create a pipeline of diverse talent for STEM careers at NASA and foster entrepreneurship and commercial opportunities in startup companies that provide support for NASA operations.

Tech And Clean Energy In Tulsa Region

Tulsa, the second most populous city in Oklahoma, has been attracting significant investment. In January, Laundris, a B2B enterprise industrial automation software platform utilizing artificial intelligence, announced it would relocate its headquarters from Austin, TX to Tulsa. The company is now located at 36 Degrees North, a basecamp for entrepreneurs and startups.

“Our company is primarily focused on the next generation of new and emerging technology, specifically the physical to digital transformation of enterprises,” said Laundris CEO Don Ward. “The geographic location of Tulsa and the resources provided give Laundris a strategic advantage as we scale throughout the United States and globally. We look forward to participating in­—and growing—the city’s tech ecosystem and community.”

Tulsa’s Future, the Tulsa Regional Chamber-led regional economic development partnership, worked with the George Kaiser Family Foundation to help Laundris identify its site at 36 Degrees North.

“Laundris is clearly an innovator and disruptor in the linen and technology industry,” said Arthur Jackson, Senior Vice President of Economic Development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber. “Their presence in Tulsa will not only mean good things for their company, but they will also add to the critical mass of tech-based companies we are attracting to our region.”

The Tulsa region is also participating in the energy landscape evolution in Oklahoma. In June, Enel, an Italy-based clean energy company announced it will invest more than $1 billion in what has been labeled the biggest economic development project in the state’s history (see sidebar). The Port of Inola was chosen by Enel North America as the site for one of the largest solar cell and panel manufacturing plants in the nation, the company and its affiliate, 3Sun USA LLC, announced.

Construction on the more than two million-square-foot factory is expected to begin in the fall, and Enel plans to start manufacturing solar panels by the end of 2024. The project is expected to create 1,000 new permanent jobs by 2025.