Global Highway

As the world gets smaller, Oklahoma’s piece of it gets bigger.

That’s the net effect of Oklahoma’s global outreach, says Jennifer Springer, director of international trade and foreign investment for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

“Trade is the base, and from there the relationships grow,” says Springer. “When a foreign company develops business relationships with Oklahoma companies, it often leads to that company wanting to develop a physical presence in the state. We have been building very strong relationships over the last few years. With an overall low cost of doing business, low industrial electric rates and more, Oklahoma has a competitive advantage to offer. Meeting with these companies face to face helps solidify that advantage.”

Oklahoma’s efforts are paying off. In 2015, the state won 34 foreign direct investment projects representing $1.44 billion in investment and resulting in 2,449 new jobs, according to FDIMarkets.

At the same time, Oklahoma exports last year reached more than $5.3 billion in goods and services, supporting more than 400,000 jobs in the state, according to the US Census Bureau.

“Why are these companies choosing to do business either with or in Oklahoma? Two things really stand out — our low cost of doing business and low utility costs,” says Springer. “Our electricity costs are 30 percent lower on average.”

Factors like these, along with a competitive workforce and a superior transportation logistics network, are making Oklahoma especially attractive to companies based in Europe and Asia.

“We have been working with an aerospace cluster in South Korea for some time now,” notes Springer. “They supply parts to Boeing and Airbus. Through our presence at international trade and industry shows, as well as call trips, we are getting in front of and making an impression on international companies. Germany is showing a lot of interest in Oklahoma right now.”

ASCO Aerospace of Belgium is one of Oklahoma’s more recent FDI success stories. The Global 100 aerospace manufacturer established a plant in Stillwater in 2012 and now employs about 170 workers. Within five years, ASCO plans to employ 500 workers on site.

“There is a lot of movement among European companies that are parts suppliers. They are looking to the US right now,” says Springer. “We have the largest Air Force depot in the US at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City and the largest MRO facility in the US at American Airlines in Tulsa. That helps companies when they decide to move over here to do business.”

Springer adds that “Oklahoma has a manufacturing base. We are very competitive when it comes to manufacturing. Our CareerTech system in Oklahoma is a very important factor in workforce training and preparation. CareerTech assists our efforts in the recruitment of FDI projects.”

She cites Germany as an example. “German companies are used to apprenticeship programs,” she notes. “We were able to work with CareerTech to set up a very similar apprenticeship program for German firms here in Oklahoma.”

The challenge is simply letting more companies know about these resources. “Overseas, companies don’t necessarily know the differences between the 50 US states,” Springer says. “A big part of our mission is getting the word on Oklahoma out.”

She adds that “Oklahoma has been going through a renaissance period, especially in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Many Oklahoma cities are focusing on quality of life economic development projects, such as MAPS in Oklahoma City or the Tulsa Future program. These initiatives make the state more alluring to both foreign and domestic companies.”

But it all begins with trade, says Springer. “Trade and FDI are related. Those business relationships start on the trade side with local companies doing business back and forth across the globe,” she notes. “As those relationships mature, foreign companies often desire to develop a presence in Oklahoma.”

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