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The aerospace industry is part of Oklahoma’s history and culture. From aviation pioneers Wiley Post and Will Rogers to astronauts like John Harrington, Oklahoma and Oklahomans have been central to aerospace expansion.
Phil G. Busey Sr. Chairman and CEO The Busey Group of Companies
Tinker Air Force Base, established during World War II, has remained one of America’s premier military installations vital to the nation’s defense. Oklahoma has been at the center of aerospace excellence. The acquisition of the GM plant near Tinker has created opportunities for expanded operations. Boeing, one of our country’s aviation giants, has announced the creation of hundreds of new jobs in Oklahoma.
It is critical to our economic growth that we commit resources and build on this foundation to compete for the best the aerospace industry offers.
While energy sometimes takes center stage, Oklahomans cannot overlook the significance of aerospace to our economy. In 2007, the Governor’s Council for Workforce Development issued its report on Oklahoma’s Aerospace Workforce. The findings were significant.
In 2004, aerospace contributed more than 137,000 jobs in Oklahoma, and this number has increased in recent years. The industry contributes more than $12.4 billion to our economy and accounts for well over 10% of Oklahoma’s industry output. We have the largest commercial maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in the nation at American Airlines in Tulsa, and the largest Air Force MRO at Tinker.
We cannot rest on these numbers. While national focus is on shoring up an ailing economy, it is time for us to put our best talents together to become a hub of aerospace industry operations. Competing against Texas and other states, we need a strong commitment to our future. While defense budgets are being cut, we have to be vigilant to protect our military bases and develop efficiencies in supporting them.
Aerospace companies, large and small, locate and create jobs where government contracts sustain operations. These contracts are a main source of their interest in Oklahoma. Without our military bases, we could see companies move to other states.
Another BRAC, or base realignment and closure, round has been announced. There are three key Air Force bases anchoring Oklahoma’s aerospace industry: Vance, Altus and Tinker. Ft. Sill is a major Army facility with a burgeoning presence for unmanned aircraft. This announcement alone creates the urgent need to proactively support our bases.
Tinker alone employs more than 25,000 and contributes $3 billion annually to Oklahoma’s economy, which is anchored by two large industries: energy and aerospace. Protecting the aerospace industry is essential to our economic future. But we need coordinated action from leaders in government, business and local chambers of commerce to set long-range goals to sustain the industry.
Harvard Business Review recently published a special report, “Reinventing America,” that centered on the U.S. remaining competitive in a global economy. Key is the development of a long-term strategy for economic development, rebuilding K-12 public education, reinvesting in infrastructure and research, and breaking government gridlock that has crippled Washington and prevented meaningful action on necessary legislation.
Sound familiar? The recommendations are remarkably similar to some set forth in the aforementioned 2007 Oklahoma report. We can choose to apply these recommendations to a long-term plan making this state a showcase for aerospace.
We can use resources to expand an already firm foundation spurring new aviation investment and job creation. By utilizing our recognized major universities and world-class career tech centers and investing in a first-class public education system, Oklahoma can become a training center for aerospace workforce development – from aviation mechanics to engineers.
Meeting the needs of aerospace by focusing on the workforce can set Oklahoma apart, not only for industry relocation, but also training. Investment is needed across the board, coordinated through a long-term strategy, not addressing issues through short-term agendas. Incentives for business must be expanded. They are more valuable than any state income tax cuts.
Investment in infrastructure, like the purchase of the GM facility, can pay dividends. Moving from year-to-year decisions to a long-term strategic commitment is an innovative change in government that will set Oklahoma apart from other states.
Oklahoma’s leaders, from government to business, must stand together to craft a plan putting Oklahoma at the front of the competition, not only in aerospace, but also other industries. Aggressive, innovative and real commitments can attract businesses and create jobs. We have all the tools. We have the legacy. We demand excellence from our sports teams, why should we expect less of ourselves to support a critical industry and also improve Oklahoma?