Oklahoma’s aerospace investment strategy…A soaring success story

Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK, June 10, 2013 – Oklahoma, citing the importance of aviation and aerospace to the state’s heritage and economy, has laid out plans to lure aviation and aerospace businesses, even in the face of the aftereffects of the global recession.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin along with Oklahoma’s Secretary of Science and Technology, Dr. Stephen McKeever, will be leading a delegation of aerospace executives and State officials to convey that message at the Paris Airshow taking place outside of Paris, June 17-23, 2013.
Oklahoma has a tremendous heritage in aviation and aerospace, says Victor Bird, director of the state’s Aeronautics Commission. “It dates back to statehood [in 1907]. Clyde Cessna tested aircraft here in the 1910s. We’ve manufactured thousands of bombers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and parts of the lunar module and the space shuttle were built here,” he notes. “We have seven centers for aircraft repair and overhaul.”

Aviation and aerospace has been an economic engine for Oklahoma for the past 20 years, says Bird. “So it’s in the best interest of the state and its citizens to make sure the industry is viable and has a chance to expand,” he notes.

The state is home to 500 companies that make up 10% of the economy, says Dr. Dave Wagie, a retired Air Force general and Director of Aerospace & Defense Economic Development with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “Oklahoma has 143 airports and five military bases, and [they] are a huge hub for overhaul and maintenance [MRO], with an American Airlines facility in Tulsa,” he adds. Oklahoma aviation companies engage in trade all over the world, says Wagie. “Our most recent numbers are $12.4 billion of economic impact in Oklahoma from aerospace and more than $4 billion in Oklahoma exports to 170 countries.”

In addition to aerospace MRO and manufacturing, Oklahoma is fast becoming a global leader in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) R&D and testing. The first ever UAV graduate degree in the US can be obtained at Oklahoma State University and the State offers a unique value proposition to both military and commercial UAV manufactures; easy access to restricted airspace for testing purposes. Airspace that is classified as restricted is valuable, says Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation, Dr. Stephen McKeever, because it allows developers to test vehicles without special certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. The state is always looking for ways to help the industry grow, says Wagie.

“Oklahoma has real attractions for major businesses, including well-trained employees, a great education system and supportive leaders in government,” he points out. “We also have a low cost of living and tremendous incentives for businesses, especially for aerospace,” he states. “Boeing is sending 500 jobs here from Long Beach, Calif., and FlightSafety International broke ground on a new facility that is bringing 300 new jobs.”

The Oklahoma Department of Commerce tracks potential business sites and targets those that are shovel ready, says Wagie. “When a business calls, we already have a short list,” he says. “We currently have 33 sites and 600 facilities in a database that we can show companies.”

Another tool at OK Commerce’s disposal is the Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit, which provides a $5,000 per year tax credit to engineers hired into the aerospace industry as well as gives the companies that hire them a 10 percent credit for hiring in-state graduates and a 5 percent credit for hiring from other states. “In 2009, for example, 349 engineers were hired. It cost us $3.9 million, but the economic impact generated was $261 million, which is a good trade-off,” said Bird.

He also points to the Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance, which represents 500 companies, he says. “If someone comes in and wants a list of suppliers, that group can help. We work with economic development organizations in cities and rural areas. We give state incentives [to aerospace companies looking to do business in Oklahoma] and connect them with local economic development organizations for incentives and sites and talk specifically about the benefits of moving to a location.”

The state has done a lot of work in the past two years to plan for the future under Governor Fallin’s Innovation and Technology Plan, says Wagie. “Oklahoma issued a strategic plan to grow aerospace, capitalize on that growth and expand in new areas where we have a niche,” he explains. “A big focus is on composite materials and UAVs. Unemployment has stayed low here during the recession, and I think we can keep our core business and grow in new areas.”

In 2011 Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin created the Governor’s Unmanned Aerial
 Systems Council. This council includes representatives from the UAS industry, state
 government and academia. During the past few years, Oklahoma has organized an impressive 
list of resources, assets and existing statewide collaborations that will be important for the nation 
as unmanned aerial systems are allowed to safely operate within the national airspace. “Oklahoma is committed to fostering economic development and growth for the UAS industry in
the state,” said Governor Fallin.

Most recently in March 2013 Oklahoma was host to a UAS Summit in Norman, OK which provided a platform for the state to describe its plans and objectives with respect to UAS. The Summit covered a diverse set of subjects and topics including the use of UAS for agriculture, advanced weather monitoring and research, along with law enforcement and military applications of UAS technology. The Summit also included a panel discussion addressing legal and social aspects of UAS including privacy implications.