When aerospace manufacturer ASCO selected Stillwater four years ago, the decision marked a turning point for Oklahoma. Today, Oklahoma is widely regarded as a global aerospace hub and the future keeps getting brighter in the Sooner State.
ASCO, a Belgian-based company, now employs 170 workers in Stillwater and expects to have around 500 employees within five years. In Stillwater, ASCO machines and finishes airplane wing components as well as structural frame parts from steel and aluminum. Ultimately, those products are bound for Boeing 737s, 777s and 787s.
In 2014, PwC (Pricewaterhouse-Coopers) ranked ASCO the No. 88 aerospace company in the world with $412 million in global revenue. Bruce Tifft, plant manager of ASCO Aerospace USA in Stillwater, recently spoke with Oklahoma: The State of Success about the site selection factors that led his company to Oklahoma and enable ASCO to keep growing and thriving today.
Why did ASCO select Stillwater, Oklahoma as its business location?
BRUCE TIFFT: There were a lot of factors that figured into it, of course. We were able to find an existing facility with room for growth in a relatively central location to our customers and potential future customers. Another important factor was, of course, the cost of doing business. This includes a lot of the startup kinds of things, like training and some regulatory fees/costs but recurring costs like taxes and labor as well.
An important part of this is also the variety of incentive programs created by the State of Oklahoma such as Quality Jobs, the Investment Tax Credit, the ad valorem tax exemption, the manufacturer’s exemption for sales and use tax and the Training for Industry Program (TIP) that create solid leverage for new businesses.
Transportation was also important. We located within a few minutes of a major turnpike and interstate access and within an hour or so of the two major airports in Oklahoma. Labor costs were also attractive compared to other areas of the country.
The local and state officials as well as the US representatives in Belgium were a very big help in facilitating the entire deal. Their ability to pull together different entities and connect us with the right state and local people was a tremendous attraction. All truly did work together very well in helping us to get whatever we needed; from the US Embassy in Belgium through the Select USA Program, the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce and City Council, technical schools like Meridian Technology Center for training, Career Tech, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce all the way to the Governor and even the federal level New Markets Tax Credits Program with MetaFund and REI Oklahoma as partners. The various state incentive programs have been an important leverage for us.
How does being located in Oklahoma help your company grow and thrive?
TIFFT: We are now better linked with our North American customers and the favorable cost of doing business allows us to move the work that goes to those customers closer and maintain a competitive cost at the same time.
What do you like best about the Oklahoma workforce?
TIFFT: Well, I am biased because I’m an Oklahoma native. But I’ve also moved around the country in my career so I think I have an objective perspective as well. The history and culture of Oklahoma from agricultural and ranching to oil and gas and a solid aerospace base and other manufacturing all support our manufacturing business well.
The work ethic that is embedded in the culture from these segments is solid. Also, Oklahoma has for many years done a very good job of vocational and technical training with a good network of schools that partner well with the high schools and colleges. This network also partners well with business in a flexible way to offer assistance and to understand how they can best support the individual needs of the businesses in their area. All of this makes the workforce one that is suited well for the needs of manufacturing in general and aerospace specifically.
How does Oklahoma help aerospace companies like yours be competitive globally?
TIFFT: The state has a good aerospace base. It goes back almost to the beginning of flight in both the commercial and military sectors and also includes space exploration. That foundation means that many state and local officials have experience with the aerospace industry and our needs and it means that there is an established supply base here as well.
It is centrally located to the aerospace manufacturing hubs of Tulsa, Oklahoma City with Tinker Air Base, Wichita and Dallas-Fort Worth. This means that you can be more responsive to your customers and actually know them better. It also means that we are more closely linked with our North American suppliers who also serve these areas. Being closer to customers and suppliers is something that every industry wants to do and aerospace is no different.
The primary reason we are here in Oklahoma is to better connect with our customers and to do it more cost effectively and efficiently. Additionally, the state is home to good universities and fosters partnerships with industry. Our location in Stillwater, for instance, is the home of Oklahoma State University. We have been able to tailor training programs with Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater to train new graduates to acquire the necessary skills for our industry.