Greater Oklahoma City is in the geographic center of North America equidistant from the east and west coasts and major trade partners of Canada and Mexico. The ten county region is at the crossroads of the U.S., sitting at the heart of three major national highways on the NAFTA corridor.
There's a reason Greater Oklahoma City is such a great place for business: Location. The ten county region is positioned within a day's drive of the rapidly-growing south-central region (OK, TX, AR, LA) projected to grow more than 44% during the next 25 years.
International manufacturers of wind energy components are lining up to spend billions of dollars on new U.S. manufacturing sites within the next five years.
Some of those manufacturers currently are looking at Oklahoma, but Oklahoma's ability to land those companies will depend on how prepared the state is and the willingness of officials to offer meaningful incentives, said Ed McCallum, a site location expert from Greenville, S.C.
McCallum's firm, McCallum Sweeney Consulting, has assisted many international wind energy firms with their expansion plans. He and several other experts talked to Oklahomans at a Norman wind energy conference this week about what they need to do to win the economic development competition for manufacturers of wind energy components.
"It's very competitive because there's not a lot of economic development activity and this is one that's strong," McCallum told The Oklahoman. "It's competitive not just because of the economy, but because this is the next big thing."
Faced with high unemployment, many U.S. companies are offering large financial incentives to attract wind energy manufacturers, McCallum said.
If a community wants to win a site location competition, it is important that incentives be carefully targeted to the needs of wind energy manufacturers, he said.
What do manufacturers want the most?
"Anything that has to do with work force development and training is extremely important," he said. "You've got to have the work force and you've got to make sure there's a steady stream."
Large scale wind energy manufacturing has been going on a long time in Europe, but it's relatively new to the United States so there are not a lot of skilled workers available, he said.
States that have effective vocational technical schools and community colleges willing to customize courses to the needs of manufacturers are considered a big plus to the wind industry, he said.
"Some places are great at it and some places aren't," McCallum said. "Oklahoma is good. It does a good job."
Wind turbine manufacturers also are concerned about logistics, McCallum said.
"These things (turbines) are big, really, really big. But you've got to get them to market," he said. "If you can do those two things, you have a right to compete. It doesn't mean you'll win, but you have a right to compete."
Communities should be prepared before wind companies call, McCallum said. "You may only get one opportunity."
Being prepared means having a site ready to go and a regulatory process that minimizes delays in such things as obtaining permits and bond financing, he said. It also means knowing ahead of time what financial incentives can be offered, he said.
Being a state where wind power is generated is a plus for Oklahoma, McCallum said.
"People are going to talk to you," he said. "You have an opportunity guys in the Southeast don't have. The fact you have inland ports also gives you the opportunity for sales off shore."
As the state goes forward, its economic development leaders should constantly look around and compare themselves to states that are "absolutely considered the best," he said.
"Certainly Oklahoma is among the top 10," he said. He listed Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas among other top competitors, but said the list changes constantly.
McCallum said his firm has looked at Oklahoma for sites for some of its clients and continues to do so.
Natalie Shirley, Oklahoma's secretary of commerce and tourism, said she knows of several companies that are currently looking at Oklahoma for wind energy deals.
Oklahoma is going to get some economic benefit from wind energy just because western Oklahoma is in the corridor where wind energy is generated, she said.
"But if we just sell our raw resource of wind, then we have not taken advantage of all the opportunities that are out there," she said.
Even greater opportunities exist for the manufacture of component parts, research and development, and education, she said.
Speed is of the essence, Shirley said.
"Every minute that we twist our hands about this, some other state is figuring out a way to utilize whatever opportunities are available to it," she said.