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Jim Rice started Pro-Fab Inc. in his garage back in 1986. Focusing on the fabrication of aircraft parts, the business grew until finally moving into a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility 10 years later.
Ryan Russo, manager for Pro-Fab’s aerospace program for the past six years, says its client list may be smaller than some companies, but sales run into the millions.
“A shop of our size isn’t a Tier 1 supplier to all the big Tier 1 defense contractors, but fortunately, we’ve been able to establish those relationships and many long-term contracts with the Bells and the Lockheeds and Boeings,” he says.
Pro-Fab could be the poster child for the aerospace industry in Oklahoma: not one of the country’s biggest outfits, but easily one of the most successful.
In January, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber released a study showing the industry is responsible for more than $7.3 billion in goods and services produced by more than 300 employers sustaining, either directly or indirectly, some 85,000 workers in-state.
“This study shows us that each direct job in the aerospace sector supports approximately 1.25 additional jobs in the broader state economy,” says Roy Williams, chamber president and CEO. “That is phenomenal, and will only continue to grow, especially with companies like Boeing bringing even more high-quality jobs to our region.”
Robin Roberts Krieger, executive vice president of economic development for the chamber, says all of that moves Oklahoma City into the top 10 American cities for aerospace.
“Aerospace is a big part of what we work on,” she says. “I’ve been here for seven years, and it’s been active the entire time.”
Krieger helps the chamber execute the economic development contract it has with Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County, much of it involving aerospace.
National aerospace demographic studies typically look only at privatesector jobs. But federal entities Tinker Air Force Base and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center account for more than 30,000 employees commuting from 44 counties across the state.
How to take advantage of that remains on Krieger’s mind.
“As an economic developer, you always have to look at what your strengths are first and what your asset base is,” she says. “Land is all well and good, but do you have the workforce, the transportation? We really try to leverage Tinker and the FAA.”
In two years, Oklahoma City is expected to absorb some 800 jobs as Boeing closes its Wichita, Kan., manufacturing plant. Another 100 or so jobs will be relocated from the Seattle area.
Those positions are in addition to the 1,500 slated to come from facilities in Long Beach, Calif.
Last year’s announcement that Tinker would take a lead role over two other U.S. Air Force bases should be good for Central Oklahoma, Krieger says.
“Because of the federal budget issues and the defense cuts, I think it will position us better,” she says. “But I’m also pragmatic enough to realize the magnitude of the cuts they’re talking about are mind-boggling. So you’re going to see impacts. I think we’re positioned as well as we can be.”
Meanwhile, Russo keeps a close eye on activity in Washington, D.C., as The White House recently reported budget cuts to the Department of Defense, which includes a net loss of 948 positions at Tinker Air Force Base.