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A conversation with. Sandy Pratt, Deputy Director for Business Services, Oklahoma Dept. of Commerce

" Because of our geographic location processing and logistics/distribution, our central and south central regions show promise, especially for food processing and logistics/distribution. We also see growth in business services, software development, and customer care; data centers find lower electrical costs, reasonable and available real estate, and abundant land here."

Jun/Jul 07
Q. What are some of your recent development highlights?
A.
Last fall, MG Motors North America Inc. announced an assembly plant in Ardmore, which will revive the historic MG brand. Headquarters will be in Oklahoma City, and research and development will be based at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. In total, the project is expected to produce 500 jobs. Food processing has always been a target due to our agricultural history and opportunity to obtain materials. A joint venture announced by Smithfield Beef Group, Inc. and ContiGroup Companies, Inc. provides for a new beef processing facility opening in Texas County, creating 2,500 jobs. Also, in foreign direct investment, Sigma Alimentos, S.A. de C.V., a Mexican company, is opening its first North American facility for production of cold cuts in Seminole; this will employ as many as 300 people.

Q. What other industries are expanding?
A.
Because of our geographic location processing and logistics/distribution, our central and south central regions show promise, especially for food processing and logistics/distribution. We also see growth in business services, software development, and customer care; data centers find lower electrical costs, reasonable and available real estate, and abundant land here. In Tulsa, Capital One Auto Finance opened a loan servicing operations facility in 2006 that will employ 600, and in April 2007, Coca Cola Company's largest bottler announced a new customer-service center and the creation of 300 jobs over the next two years.

We continue to see expansion in renewable and alternative energy. The governor announced the new $40 million Oklahoma Bio-Energy Center, which has the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation as founding consortium members. Wind energy and related manufacturing is a growth area, and recent legislative sessions have resulted in tax credits for ethanol projects.

In research and development, Oklahoma State University is establishing a Sensor Testing Center, which is funded in part by a $2 million investment by the Ponca City Development Authority, with a matching pledge and a donation of a 70,000-square-foot building by Conoco Philips. Eighty scientists, engineers, and support personnel will be hired, with an economic impact of more than $120 million over 10 years. A spinoff effect is expected from this facility, which will research bacterial sensors, biomedical sensors, environmental sensors, optical sensors, and sensors for homeland security and defense applications.

In life sciences, Presbyterian Health Foundation in Oklahoma City cited a recent study that estimates that biosciences has had more than a $3 billion impact on our state's economy, with more than 40,000 directly created jobs. Before the end of this decade, we'll see built in Oklahoma City a new Oklahoma University Cancer Institute, a new diabetes center, an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation research tower, an expansion to the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park, and a large addition to the Dean McGee Eye Institute. Several bio-science projects have been announced in the central corridor, including two cancer treatment centers. Also, in Oklahoma City, a 55,000-square-foot, $100 million ProCure Treatment Center will open in summer 2009. Average annual wage for the 100 potential jobs created is $100,000.

Q. How are existing entities encouraging new projects?
A.
Aerospace continues to thrive, with 145,000 people employed
in this industry. We have a huge military presence, with Tinker, Vance, and Altus Air Force Bases. Tinker has been noted as the Air Force's largest and most important base for maintenance, repair, and overhaul of military aircraft and engines. Tulsa is ranked eighth in the nation for the size of its aerospace engines manufacturing cluster and 20th for its defense-related cluster according to a Harvard study. One of our targeted industry sectors is weather. The National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma in Norman is involved with the American Meteorological Society, and has nationally known accomplishments in development of Doppler radar, scientific research, and development.

Q. Do you visit other countries to find potential business?
A.
For foreign direct investment efforts, we have partnered with Asia, Europe and Mexico. I am traveling to China in April, visiting Hong Kong and Shanghai to create awareness and identify investment opportunities. We have trade offices in China, Mexico, Israel, and Vietnam.

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