Business doesn’t arrive on a Greyhound bus. It comes calling in a private jet.
That is how today’s aerospace industry impacts local business, said Vic Bird, director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.
Aviation has played a part in the state’s history from the very beginning, 100 years ago. And, with more than 400 aerospace companies based in Oklahoma – many of them focused on the maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft – aerospace remains one of the state’s primary growth industries.
The state’s infrastructure for growing the aerospace MRO industry is in place, he said.
“Aerospace is so important to Oklahoma’s continued economic health,” he said.
Aerospace, linked to the state through famous innovators, entertainers, the military and commercial fleets, has grown such over the decades that today one in 10 Oklahomans earns his or her income directly or indirectly in the sector. Studies over the past seven years confirm that more than 150,000 jobs are tied to the aviation industry in the state, split mostly between Tulsa and the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.
With Tinker Air Force Base, the Oklahoma City metro claims more than 70,000 jobs, Bird said.
“We know Tulsa has at least that many, if not more. So, that easily puts us at the 150,000 figure,” he said.
“Plus, there are other aerospace industries across the state — in Ada and Ardmore. There is Altus Air Force Base. We are comfortable saying we have 150,000 direct and indirect jobs,” Bird said.
Average salaries for people in the aerospace industry are more than $50,000, compared to the average Oklahoman earning $29,000 annually.
Studies report that the state aerospace payroll is $5 billion, with industry output at $12 billion annually.
With the legacy of the industry in the state, there has come a concentration of workers, he said. In addition, schools have geared a curriculum around aerospace, creating a “student pipeline” to the industry.
“With these average salaries at $54,000, these are good jobs,” Bird said. “They are the kind of jobs that we want to create more of in Oklahoma. That is why we want to nurture and grow this industry. These are the jobs that will keep more of our precious resources here — our young people.
The three pillars of Oklahoma’s economy are energy, aerospace and agriculture.
The energy industry employs 2.6 percent of employees in the state, compared to 10 percent in aerospace.
While the energy industry, through a 7 percent gross production tax on oil and natural gas, makes the largest contribution to the state economy, the aerospace industry contributes much to “leveling of the economic bumps in the road,” Bird said.
What We Do
“What we do in Oklahoma, we do well,” Bird said.
“From Tinker, the largest U.S. Department of Defense repair center for aircraft in the world, to the American Airlines repair center in Tulsa, the largest commercial aviation repair center in the world – what we do is maintain and repair aircraft,” he said.
Oklahoma offers a range of advantages and incentives to aerospace companies that are difficult to match anywhere else, Bird said.
General aviation makes a big impact on the state’s economy, too. The OAC works to preserve and improve the state’s public airports in communities throughout the state, which make up the state airport system and the promotion of the aviation industry.
Oklahoma has 114 public airports, creating the fourth-highest availability of airports per capita in the country, Bird said. Forty-nine of those airports are classified as regional business airports. Forty of those 49 are jet-capable, which means they have at least a 5,000-foot runway.
“We have 96 percent of our population living within 25 miles of a jet-capable runway,” Bird said.
One of the OAE goals is to make those last nine regional business airports jet-capable as possible.
General aviation airports play an important role to a local economy, just as the commercial or military operations do, Bird said.
“Ardmore Municipal is as important to Ardmore as Tulsa International Airport is to Tulsa,” he said.
However, the state’s GA industry is battling for continued federal support, Bird said.
“Just like the highway bill, Congress has torte-authorized federal dollars for the air transport system. Unfortunately, the proposed budget introduced by the Federal Aviation Administration from the Bush White House would severely hurt our general aviation transport system in-state,” Bird said.
Oklahoma stands to lose $7 million. Over the past seven years, the state has had $22 million to invest in general aviation.
“We have been able to do things we’ve needed to do in our state’s air transport system for years,” Bird said.
“This bill would hurt those airports and their local economies,” he said.
Because the state could lose millions, Bird sees the proposed bill being fought by the state’s congressional delegation.
Another example of how an airport impacts a community is Durant, Bird said.
“They have a great runway. Durant has a lot going. There is the state lodge, which employs 300; the Choctaw Casino employs 1,400 people. The terminal is a disgrace, however.”
Federal money would go to refurbish the facility.
Another example is Pryor’s MidAmerica Industrial Airport. The jet-capable regional business airport has become significant to the state’s aviation system, especially when Google announced earlier this year it wants location in a facility in Mid-America Industrial Park.
Miss Piper Contest
Another aspect of having a large and experienced work force is that it puts the state in play for more industry, Bird said.
Currently, Piper Aircraft has narrowed its search for a new facility to Oklahoma, Ohio and Florida. The company is looking to relocate its headquarters and complete manufacturing operation. Piper wants to begin production of its light jet at the new facility.
“We are in the finals of the Miss Piper Beauty Pageant,” Bird said. “That is because we have what is known worldwide as a top workforce. We have one of the highest concentrations of workers and companies dedicated to MRO.”
The state incentives to aerospace companies and the low cost of doing business are two other plusses, he said.
The Piper facility could bring 1,100 jobs and the light jet production would add 300-400 along, he said.
The addition of the plant would elevate the state even higher in the aerospace sector, placing it on the same tier as Wichita, Bird said. ?