ROBERT COX | GUEST COLUMNIST | THE OKLAHOMAN
Throughout Oklahoma’s history, our state has benefited from a congressional delegation that punches above its weight class. Through the leadership of elected officials like Sen. Jim Inhofe, we have laid the political groundwork to create an ecosystem in our state that is attractive to aerospace and defense companies with a supportive, stable policy environment that allows businesses to thrive and employees to prosper.
Oklahoma has deep-rooted defense interests dating back to the 1860s. Today, we find ourselves home to five robust military installations where we lead the nation in field artillery, missile defense, force modernization, pilot training and aircraft sustainment.
Some of the most successful aerospace and defense companies in the world are operating and growing right here in Oklahoma, with over 1,100 aerospace entities encompassing all aspects of the supply chain, including the largest commercial and military maintenance, repair and overhaul depots in the world.
Our defense and aerospace industries are also job creator giants, employing more than 120,000 professionals, including engineers, sheet metal mechanics and pilots; providing an average annual salary of $70,000 — nearly double the state average. The industry impacts more than 200,000 jobs. Aerospace and defense is Oklahoma’s fastest-growing sector and the second largest behind oil and gas. Its economic impact already measures $44 billion annually.
With myriad opportunities and changes on the horizon for the sector, the need to build a structured ecosystem that will overcome the political swings of congress and the shift in administrations is apparent.
What is the answer to protecting the future growth of our industry as political landscapes inevitably change? The answer is trade associations. Trade associations can perform functions to provide the entire industry with a stable infrastructure and advocacy presence in a way that self-interested, singular businesses can’t.
Oklahoma has lacked a prominent trade organization to represent its defense and aerospace interests. With the advent of the Oklahoma Defense Industry Association that vacuum is finally being filled. The association aims to be the trusted leader and representative voice of Oklahoma’s defense industry, military installations and national security interests in the state, as well as in Washington, D.C. The organization was founded on the core belief that Oklahoma’s defense industry thrives because of our communities, schools, financial institutions and universities. Through the association, these key members of our community can come together, in a way not previously possible, to grow and ecosystem where our state’s defense installations, industry, workforce and research institutions can prosper by working together.
The association drives this strategic dialogue among Oklahoma’s defense stakeholders by providing an outlet for industry members to advocate for positive policy outcomes at the state and federal levels; promote applied research partnerships through collaboration with Oklahoma’s research institutions; and enhance supply chain networking with greater access to resources for companies large and small. This level of collaboration will be vital to the future stability, sustainability and advancement of the industry.
Robert Cox is chairman of the Oklahoma Defense Industry Association.