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Greater Tulsa Reporter


Tulsa Banking on an Aerospace Future

By DAVID JONES
Contributing Editor

AMERICAN MAINSTAY: American Airlines, which opened its Tulsa Maintenance and Engineering Base in 1946, is the region’s leading employer with over 8,000 people, directly impacting another 14,000 jobs in the community. American purchases annually over $72 million in materials and supplies from local companies. Tulsa County voters gave the company a solid approval with the passage of the Vision 2025 vote in 2003, which allows American to purchase tooling, test equipment and inventory associated with both new and existing work at the Tulsa Base.



Mention aerospace to Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor and her eyes light up. The aerospace industry, she says, can lead to a truly prosperous future for the city once known primarily as the Oil Capital of the World.

“Nordam employs nearly 2,000 people in the Tulsa area,” she says, “and they tell me if we could come up with 200 engineers they would hire them tomorrow.”

The Tulsa area is already feeling the beneficial effects of aerospace. According to Mary Smith of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, 30,000 jobs in the northeast region of Oklahoma are directly tied to the aerospace industry with an economic impact “far in advance of $3 billion.”

With 70 to 80 percent of new jobs coming from existing companies, the Chamber has enthusiastically joined with Mayor Taylor in trying to woo aerospace expansion.

“The average salary in aerospace,” says Smith, “is 89 percent above the state average. At American Airlines in Tulsa the average salary is around $60,000.”

Happily, she says, the Tulsa Region’s largest aerospace companies are all in major expansion mode.

“When Tulsa’s economy dipped after 9/11,” says Mayor Taylor, “aerospace dipped here as well as nationally, but it didn’t dip as far as the rest of the economy and came back faster. Aerospace is going to play a huge part in Tulsa’s future.”

Oklahoma State University obviously agrees with that assessment. In November the school will open the Helmerich Advanced Technology Research Center at OSU-Tulsa with a 123,000 square foot building just north of Interstate 244 and west of Detroit Avenue.

The research facility, says OSU-Tulsa President Gary Trennepohl, will work on advance materials and nanotechnology at the atomic or molecular level. More simply put, the school will emphasize the invention of materials that will assist in the two major Tulsa areas, aerospace and energy.

The technological advance area has Mayor Taylor excited, but she sees synergy in another, very specific area.

“Out by Tulsa International Airport the city owns 800 acres of land that I’d like to see turned into an industrial and technological aerospace park. I expect to see this happen in the next three to five years.

“Tulsans are familiar with the American Airlines maintenance center in Tulsa and are well aware of the payroll it provides, but Tulsa has a lot more than that facility. Lufthansa, the German national airline, has been running an engine testing and overhaul facility in Tulsa. Omni Air International, based in Tulsa, does passenger charters all over the world.”

Spirit Aerosystems (formerly Boeing) employs over 1,000 people in Tulsa and McAlester and offers a line of products and services for aerospace design.

Aerospace, of course, is not restricted to Tulsa. Tinker Air Force Base, for example, is a huge Air Force base for maintenance, repair and overhaul of military aircraft. That base alone employees 26,000 people and provides $3 billion in state revenue.

Jobs in the research sector are high-quality, high-paying jobs. The idea of putting aerospace firms in a contained geographic area where ideas could be shared excites Mayor Taylor, but she is most concerned that Tulsa has the people who are qualified to take the jobs offered. To this end the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce has a website at www.aerojobstulsa.com that outlines the needs of the various aerospace companies.

Mayor Taylor says Tulsa is well placed in its effort to woo jobs.
“Our effort to bring construction of the Boeing 787 to Tulsa may have failed,” she says. “But it may prove to pay off after all. When we tried to land Boeing we developed good relationships and credibility with the company.

“The Boeing 787 is being made out of composite materials. We can make those materials in Tulsa.”

How big is aviation in Oklahoma? Currently more than one job in 25 in the state is in the aerospace industry and the total industry output is $11 billion.

This is just the beginning. The ceiling is not in sight. Energy is still a major industry and will be for years to come, but when it comes to growth, Kathy Taylor’s gaze is fixed on the stars.

Updated 04-23-2007

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