Oklahoma has been a pioneer in the energy industry and advanced mobility technologies for over a century, supplying petroleum and gas to run combustion engines since the invention of the automobile. Today, Oklahoma is continuing that spirit of innovation by investing in advanced mobility development.
In October, Oklahoma and Arkansas signed a memo of understanding to position the region as a national hub of advanced mobility. This collaboration, done in partnership with with Tulsa Innovation Labs and Runway Group, invests in advanced mobility development, including drones, electric and autonomous vehicles, battery manufacturing, and transportation and logistics solutions. The project is expected to create 55,000 new high-tech jobs, and companies such as Walmart, QuikTrip, and J.B. Hunt will help pilot emerging technologies.
Oklahoma is ranked number one in the nation in readiness for drone commerce, according to a study by George Mason University. Aerospace is the second largest industry in Oklahoma, and companies like Boeing and Baker Hughes have invested millions of dollars into developing Unmanned Aerial Systems technology, including weather tracking, first responder support, cattle monitoring, and precision agriculture. With more than 7,000 square miles of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test sites, Oklahoma also partners with the US Army to develop UAS and counter-UAS technology.
Electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing is growing in popularity across the country, and with more charging stations per capita than any other state, Oklahoma is at the forefront. Since 2020, Oklahoma has been approached by dozens of EV and automotive companies to discuss more than US$32bn worth of capital investment projects. Canoo, a Los Angeles-based EV company, is building a mega microfactory on a 400-acre campus outside of Tulsa. The facility will open next year and house a paint shop, body shop, and general assembly plant. In November of 2021, the company announced it is relocating its headquarters from California to Arkansas and expanding its Oklahoma operations to include new R&D, software development, customer support, and financing centres. The investments will be worth more than US$1bn and are expected to bring at least 2,700 high paying jobs to the state.
Recycling and rehabilitating EV batteries is another significant component of Oklahoma’s EV ecosystem. Spiers New Technologies, a Dutch-based company with facilities in Oklahoma City, rehabilitates and recycles EV battery packs. As many as 2,000 battery packs are shipped monthly to the company’s Oklahoma City facilities, where they are assessed and rehabilitated or put to a new purpose. Oklahoma is also home to Umicore, a company that researches, develops, and manufactures complex organometallic chemicals and catalysts. At facilities in Catoosa and Quapaw, Oklahoma, Umicore produces the cathode materials used in the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs.
Oklahoma’s skilled workforce is a key asset to its success in e-mobility and a major draw for companies looking to relocate or expand. Oklahoma has one of the best CareerTech systems in the country. Its 29 technology centres and 59 campuses offer many programmes that develop necessary industry skills. Through certifications in space system engineering, machinery, and more, CareerTech students develop the skills they need for well-paying jobs at a fraction of the cost of traditional four-year college. A new partnership between the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Canoo is also preparing Oklahomans to work at Canoo’s Oklahoma facilities. This programme will amplify the community impact of Canoo’s investments by employing the local workforce.
As more EV and automotive companies move to Oklahoma, engineering jobs are increasingly in demand. There are currently more than 64,000 available engineering and engineering management jobs in Oklahoma. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oklahoma will need to graduate more than 3,000 new engineers each year through 2028 to meet demand of the industry. To address this need, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma are partnering to offer the Engineering Initiative, a programme that invests in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math education programmes, sparking interest in STEM from a young age and preparing students for higher education. In July 2022, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education invested US$12.6m into this programme to be dispersed to colleges across the state.
Oklahoma is an e-mobility industry leader. Through EV manufacturing, battery pack rehabilitation, education programmes, and a skilled workforce, the state is positioned to become the epicentre of EVs and UAS development. By investing in this industry, we are investing in the future of our state. The job growth and economic development that comes from this budding industry will impact Oklahomans for generations to come.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Matt Pinnell is Lt. Governor of Oklahoma
The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact email@example.com