Oklahoma keen to lure Australian aerospace firms to head across the Pacific

Representatives from Oklahoma at the Avalon Airshow. (Oklahoma Department of Commerce/Twitter)
Representatives from Oklahoma at the state’s booth the Avalon Airshow. (Oklahoma Department of Commerce/Twitter)

Oklahoma is hoping its well-developed aviation industry and business-friendly conditions will entice Australian aerospace firms to say “here I come”.

Representatives from The Sooner State, along with those from California, Connecticut, Maryland and Oregon, were keen to showcase their wares at the 2017 Avalon Airshow.

Oklahoma Department of Commerce aerospace and defense director Vince Howie said the state had a long history in aviation and aerospace and would welcome any and all Australian firms looking to establish themselves in the United States.

“I let them know that we are happy to help with that and why Oklahoma makes sense to put your US presence,” Howie told Australian Aviation at the Oklahoma booth located at the Avalon Airshow’s ‘US Pavilion’.

“It’s easy for them to come to the US, it has very similar structures. And it’s a pretty big market.”

Aviation is the number two industry in Oklahoma behind oil and gas, employing about 120,000 people.

In an Australian context, the state’s Department of Commerce says aerospace products are Oklahoma’s fifth largest export to this country.

Oklahoma Department of Commerce aerospace and defence director Vince Howie.
Oklahoma Department of Commerce aerospace and defence director Vince Howie.

Tulsa is American Airlines’ maintenance and engineering headquarters. It is the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in the world. Other aerospace giants to have a big presence in Oklahoma include AAR Corp, Field Aviation and Spirit Aerosystems.

Further, the state is also the home of Tinker Air Force Base, which is the largest military aircraft repair facility in the world, home of heavy maintenance work on the likes of B-1 and B-52 bombers and the KC-135 tanker. Recently, it was announced maintenance on the new KC-46 tanker and B-21 bomber would also be at Tinker.

“Between those two, we have this tremendous aerospace facility that’s built up,” Howie said.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Aviation Administration’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City is the central support and training facility for the aviation regulator and the US Department of Transportation.

And Oklahoma’s geographic location in the middle of the country has led to it being a logistics hub for many firms.

Howie said Oklahoma wanted to build up its aviation and aerospace industry as a way of reducing the impact of the “ups and downs” of oil and gas on the state.

“We don’t see energy going away obviously,” Howie said of the energy sector in Oklahoma. “But it is going to take new directions.”

“The average salary that an employee makes in the aviation industry is about $25,000 greater than the average salary in our state. Those are better paying jobs and we want those in our state.”

Howie said Oklahoma was offering incentives such as tax credits as part of efforts to entice companies to establish themselves in the state, as well as emphasising the low cost of living, lifestyle benefits and access to quality education.

While this was quite common practice at many state governments across the United States, Howie was of the view that the growth in aviation would benefit everyone in the long run.

“It’s probably more of a rising tide lifts all boats because if a business locates in another state, they may do business with the businesses in my state so it’s a win-win all around,” Howie said.

And Howie stressed no one was prepared to give away the farm just to get a business to relocate or start up in Oklahoma, with any assistance provided on a performance-based system.

“We do offer incentive programs,” Howie said.

“If you perform we pay you, if you don’t perform you get no money. We have found that works the best.

“I would say it is a friendly competition. I’m not going to give away more than I am going to bring in.”

Some of the Oklahoma-based aviation and aerospace firms that visited the Avalon Airshow. (Oklahoma Department of Commerce/Twitter)
Some of the Oklahoma-based aviation and aerospace firms that visited the Avalon Airshow. (Oklahoma Department of Commerce/Twitter)