Sky is Unlimited for Aerospace in Oklahoma
by: Phil G. Busey Sr.
Aerospace in Oklahoma has a global impact. As an economic driver, it is now second only to energy and continues to grow. Oklahoma City has become the crossroads of America with Tinker Air Force Base at its core, providing U.S. Air Force maintenance, repair and operations. Companies throughout the industry are locating here and expansion looks bright. Service-based industries are overtaking what was formerly a commodity-based economy in our state, initiating more long-term stability and unlimited impact.
However, future expansion in aerospace depends on rebranding our cultural identity. The projection of a positive brand for OKC and the state is essential to industry recruitment. Growth hinges on our collective ability to acknowledge the very real challenges surrounding our willingness to invest in the future – from public education to workforce development, Oklahoma, we’ve got some work to do. While our state may be poised to excel, the reality is that we are in a competitive national market. Potential businesses and employees have numerous options nationally.
The rich cultural identity of our state has been marred by the unintended consequences of uninformed policy and waves upon waves of budget cuts. A daunting hurdle is a public education system with low national rankings. Investing in a first-class public education system is long overdue. Prospective employees and businesses evaluate the system when selecting a new location or career move, and hearing about the state of our education can be a deal breaker.
According to one report published by CNBC on July 10, Oklahoma ranks 43rd behind other states in terms of overall quality of life. Graded, we score an “F” in workforce and education, “D+” in overall economy, “A-” in cost of doing business, and “A+” in cost of living. These ratings are a sign of the challenges we have to overcome and strengths to grow from. We know Oklahoma is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. We have to tell our powerful story to others. Our blended pioneer and Native American culture make us unique.
Our ability to make swift changes in our long-term approach and implement solutions will be pivotal in our rebranding effort. We need to set ourselves apart from other states and cities as the best home for the aerospace industry and its workforce. We offer great opportunity, but in order to recruit the best and the brightest from outside of our state, we will need to tackle these challenges head-on.
Historically, aerospace growth in Oklahoma has been a game changer; however, we cannot take it for granted. According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the aerospace industry employs 120,000 Oklahomans. We cannot wait to act on the issues holding us back if we intend to keep up with the pace of growth in this industry, as well as others. Currently, the skills needed to fill jobs in the aerospace and defense industry exceed available talent within Oklahoma. The industry has been increasing the number of available positions to support new programs emerging in our state and nation.
There are well over 1,500 open jobs industrywide in OKC. This need is increasing due to expansion. Additionally, the forecast for Tinker is an additional 1,500 jobs possible over the next few years with increased MRO work and new aircraft, including the new KC-46A and B-21 stealth bomber. Tinker is the largest MRO in the nation. Aerospace is the fastest-growing industry in Oklahoma, contributing over $44 billion to our economy.
We are developing a reputation as a national and global center of excellence in this industry based on the talent we already have access to, but it will not be enough to sustain continued growth in this sector.
Phil G. Busey Sr. is founder and CEO of DRG and The Busey Group of Companies.