Despite virus setbacks, aerospace industry expects growthPublished: Tuesday, July 21, 2020 By: Steve Metzer Source: The Journal Record
Oklahoma has not escaped this year’s severe turbulence in the aerospace industry, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the state seems to be managing better than most, several industry executives said Monday.
The sector’s focus on defense, and especially its support of Tinker, Vance and Altus Air Force bases, has insulated it somewhat from the recession and its effects on the commercial airline industry. However, Oklahoma has also reaped rewards of sustained efforts to invest in aerospace, which has risen to become the state’s second-largest and fastest-growing industry. While some Sooner State companies associated with aerospace have had to let workers go or furlough employees recently, including at American Airlines, Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems, it’s estimated that some 120,000 Oklahomans remain employed and continued growth is anticipated in the industry, which already has an impact of about $44 billion annually on the state’s economy.
Nancy Anderson, a vice president at Boeing responsible for modernization and modification, said the company has grown faster in Oklahoma than in any other state over the past five years, employing about 3,400 people and adding 50 on average per month over the past two years. The company initially located in Oklahoma City to be close to Tinker, she said, but has since evolved to the point that 40% of its activities in Oklahoma are related to international customers.
Anderson, like others who spoke during an online forum on aerospace sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said the state benefits from a strong base of engineers, including military veterans that account for 19% of Boeing’s Oklahoma workforce.
The company recently broke ground on a planned 60,000-square-foot engineering facility to be dedicated to modernization of Air Force B-52 bombers. The center will supplement nearly 1 million square feet already occupied by Boeing at Tinker and in the Oklahoma City metro. Anderson noted that at least 113 Oklahoma businesses that provide supplies or services for Boeing employ about 25,000 people in the state.
Anderson and others who spoke, including Rick Nagel, managing partner at Acorn Growth Companies, a private equity firm focused on aerospace, defense and intelligence, said Oklahoma also has benefited from a highly supportive business climate, technical schools and universities geared to assist in training and research, and also from the sheer momentum of entrepreneurial interest and investment by leaders of some 1,100 businesses involved in aerospace in Oklahoma.
“We really are one of the top seven maintenance, repair and overhaul hubs in the entire world,” Nagel said. “When you factor the I-35/I-44 corridors that kind of link Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Dallas/Fort Worth, it’s