By Benet Wilson
February 1, 2011
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.
State officials from the Aeronautics Commission and the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute are traveling to shows worldwide, such as the National Business Aviation Association convention and MRO Americas, to convey that message.
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 have 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 Dave Wagie, a retired Air Force general and associate director for economic development with the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute. “Oklahoma has 113 airports and three military bases, and [they] are a huge hub for overhaul and maintenance, 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.”
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 institute 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 is the Aerospace Industry Workforce bill, which provides tax credits for engineers and the companies that hire them, says Bird. “We had to put it on hold because of the economy, but we are working to bring it back,” he says. “In 2009, when the bill was still in effect, 349 engineers were hired. It cost us $3.9 million, but the economic impact generated was $261 million, which is a good trade-off.”
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 the 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. Unemployment has stayed low here during the recession, and I think we can keep our core business and grow in new areas.”