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Oklahoma: Aerospace and Alternative Energy Provide Stability in Turbulent Economy

June/July 09
As the recession rages on nationwide, Oklahoma is doing relatively well - better than many other states - in part because the state's economy is anchored by the strong and resilient aerospace, energy, and agriculture industries. The metro areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa - the two largest in the state - offer some of the most highly competitive business costs in the United States and North America. And Oklahoma's nationally recognized incentives attract and retain companies representing diverse sectors.

Aerospace is by far the largest industry in Oklahoma, employing over 143,000 people in 300-plus companies and generating almost $12 billion in industrial output with an annual payroll of $4.7 billion. Last year, the sector got a mini-boost when the state passed the Aerospace Industry Engineer Work Force Bill, which provides a $5,000 tax credit to engineers and the companies recruiting them.  

Tulsa is ranked eighth in the United States for its aerospace engines manufacturing cluster. A few of the state's most well-known aerospace companies include American Airlines, which employs 7,500 and operates a Tulsa overhaul facility; Boeing Company, which employs 1,000 on or near three Air Force bases; the NORDAM Group, which employs nearly 2,000 in aircraft component manufacturing/repair; and Honeywell, which provides an array of heat transfer equipment services. Recently, Spirit AeroSystems - which employs more than 1,000 in aerospace design, manufacturing, and support - completed a $17.4 million renovation of a hangar it uses at Tulsa International Airport; the company says it created 500 new jobs as a result.

Tinker Air Force Base is one of the Air Force's largest facilities and is the largest single site employer in the state, engaged in the maintenance, repair, and overhaul of military aircraft and engines. It pumps $2 billion into state coffers yearly and employs 26,000 workers. Companies such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, and Lockheed Martin provide contractor support here and other similar operations.

Several of Oklahoma's alternative energy companies are on the cutting edge of manufacturing and R&D in the industry. Many big-name companies comprise this significant energy sector, including Bergey Windpower, Chermac Energy Group, Competitive Power Ventures, GE, Horizon Wind Energy, NextEra Energy, Renewable Energy Systems, TradeWind Energy and Wind Energy Prototypes. Recently, DMI Industries, an international leader in the manufacturing of wind turbine towers, announced plans to expand production capabilities and double its Tulsa-based work force. In the near future it expects to become North America's largest wind tower manufacturer.

In the solar sector, last year, Belgium-based Umicore broke ground on a $35 million, 40,000-square-foot factory in Quapaw (population: 966) designed to manufacture solar panels parts, including those used on satellites and NASA's Mars rovers. Slated for completion later this year, the facility is expected to create over 165 new jobs. This is the company's third factory in the state and its second in Quapaw.

Governor Brad Henry signed a few legislative bills this past May to help offset the effects of a struggling national economy by creating more high-wage jobs. Some positions are expected to pay 300 percent above the state's current annual average wage. Senate Bill 909, for example, allows existing and new businesses to take advantage of both tax rebates and tax credits if they meet criteria for payroll and job creation; previously, employers could only choose one program.

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