As the U.S. and the world look ahead to a post-pandemic economy, Oklahoma continues to find solutions that are propelling the state forward.
“I’m proud to say Oklahoma is open for business, and we’re seeing results,” said Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. “More companies are looking to relocate to our state than ever before. We’ve been aggressive. In Oklahoma, business has a seat at the table and whether its reopening our economy, developing higher educational curriculum for a prepared workforce or cutting through governmental red tape, we are here to work with businesses to help them succeed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges across the U.S. Every state handled the response differently. As economies faltered, Oklahoma took a pro-business approach to reopening the state and to providing businesses with much needed support.
In response to the stimulus package passed by Congress, Governor Stitt directed the Oklahoma Department of Commerce (Commerce) to administer funding to help Oklahoma businesses impacted by the pandemic. Oklahoma’s agile government structure proved its flexibility in times of crisis.
Commerce launched three assistance programs during the year, distributing more than $155 million to over 8,500 Oklahoma companies in all 77 counties in the state—the Oklahoma Manufacturing Reboot Program, Oklahoma Bounce Back Program and Oklahoma Business Relief Program. Additionally, Commerce launched weekly industry webinars for businesses to provide information and resources available and visited businesses across the state to offer support and connections to resources.
Another opportunity seized during 2020 was in terms of the state’s shovel-ready sites. In order to better market Oklahoma’s available sites, Commerce revamped its site certification program. Once a site meets the criteria for being project-ready and receives Site Ready certification, it receives special designation on LocateOK.com. This website provides site selectors and corporate real estate professionals with detailed, site-specific information on properties available for purchase or lease, including proximity to major transportation routes, area labor force statistics, utilities, cost of living details, and business incentives for site selectors’ consideration.
In addition to updating its certification program, Commerce also worked with communities to develop virtual tours of available sites and facilities which are available on LocateOK.com.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brought travel, and therefore many site tours, to a halt. With virtual tours, we can help our clients tour Oklahoma sites from a safe distance,” said Jennifer Springer, Director of Business Development, Commerce. “Even after the pandemic ends, these tours will be a vital tool as companies are exploring their options in Oklahoma.”
While the pandemic gave Oklahoma the opportunity to highlight its business focus and ability to respond quickly and effectively, these characteristics are not new to the state. Oklahoma’s right-sized government and collaborative spirit are assets to businesses operating in the state. Throughout 2020, companies continued to choose Oklahoma for expansions and relocations, bringing 4,637 new jobs to the state and announcing more than $2 billion in new investment.
PAS MRO, a woman-owned, world-class independent Bearing Return to Service and Component Repair and Overhaul Company, relocated its operations from Irvine, Calif., to Bristow, Okla., creating 37 new jobs and investing $3.2 million.
American Airlines announced an investment in its Base Maintenance facility in Tulsa (Tech Ops – Tulsa), American’s largest Base Maintenance facility. Despite the downturn in the airline industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, American executives said in November 2020 that it is prepared to move forward with Phase I of its upgrades.
Tissue paper maker Sofidel formally opened its 1.8 million-square-foot facility in Inola. The $360-million facility is the company’s second greenfield investment in the United States and can turn out 120,000 tons of tissue per year. The facility employs more than 300, a number that is expected to double with a second operational phase.
As Oklahoma works to further diversify its economy, the state is increasing its focus on automotive. During 2020, Oklahoma, and the city of Tulsa, were the talk of the industry as Tesla considered the state for its next Cybertruck factory location. While the factory ultimately went elsewhere, the project elevated the state’s standing in the industry. And in August, the state launched the Oklahoma Automotive Accelerator program to align efforts and resources as it increases emphasis on recruiting automotive parts manufacturers to the state.
“Oklahoma earned incredibly valuable national and global exposure as a finalist for Tesla’s new facility,” said Governor Stitt. “This is the perfect time to capitalize on the benefits our state offers to automotive companies and continue to grow this sector of our economy. The auto industry has been an area of focus since the beginning of my administration and I am confident the Commerce team will use this new program to bring great results for all four million Oklahomans.”
Oklahoma’s value proposition to automotive OEMs and suppliers is impressive – with its central location and extensive transportation infrastructure, including the most inland ice-free port in the U.S. Oklahoma is also a constitutional Right to Work state with low unemployment insurance taxes and programs, which can significantly reduce hiring and training start-up costs. Additionally, the state offers the Automotive Workforce Engineer Tax Credit, modelled after Oklahoma’s highly successful Aerospace Engineer Tax Credits which were instrumental in attracting companies such as Boeing, Ferra Aerospace, Lufthansa Technik, Kratos Defense, Northrop Grumman, and Pratt & Whitney, among others.
The Oklahoma Department of Commerce is the nexus for the state’s economic development efforts. As the connection point for local economic development organizations, existing business, workforce identification and training, the agency is the one-stop shop for business relocation and expansion.
“We have heard time and time again from site selectors and companies that we make the process easy, if you could ever call it easy,” said Kisling. “By bringing the right individuals to the table, we can help a company get answers without the so-called middle men. The decision to move to expand operations is hard enough – we want to do everything we can to make Oklahoma the top choice and to make companies confident in that selection.”