September 9, 2023

Community Partner Profile: How Tulsa Innovation Labs is Launching Tulsa’s Advanced Air Mobility Industry

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With the goal of generating more than 30,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in economic opportunity, the sky’s the limit for the Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility (TRAM) Corridor—a coalition of organizations from the government, nonprofit, academia and private sectors. We connected with Daniel Plaisance, manager of advanced air mobility at Tulsa Innovation Labs, to learn more about how the organization is laying the groundwork for the next generation of advanced mobility technologies in Tulsa. And how these new technologies will bring jobs, grow local talent and fuel economic growth in the region. 

The Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility (TRAM) Corridor, is expected to help create 30-40,000 jobs in the Tulsa region by 2025 – what does this kind of growth mean for the region? How do you think the area’s community partners can come together to continue to support that growth?

The exciting thing about this industry is not just the scale of opportunities we foresee, but also the breadth and diversity. Companies in this industry employ manufacturers and technicians, but they also employ software engineers, accountants, data analysts, cybersecurity professionals, and more. If we succeed in building this cluster, it will simultaneously expand the breadth of opportunities for our current workforce and give Tulsa the push we need to diversify into higher-tech jobs. To do so at this scale will be a challenge, especially considering that it can be difficult to communicate that there will be opportunities in industries that aren’t mature yet and therefore don’t feel tangible to many Tulsans. 

To help Tulsa meet this demand, our partners at InTulsa did a comprehensive study of what kinds of jobs were being created at these firms nationwide, what skills were required for those jobs, and how those skills profiles compared with our existing workforce. We then designed a suite of programs to address what we saw as the most pressing unmet needs in the near term: 1) services to help mobility companies stand up advanced manufacturing apprenticeships, in collaboration with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance; 2) updates and expansions to certification programs at Tulsa Tech and Tulsa Community College; and 3) the creation of a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering track as part of TCC and OSU-Tulsa’s successful College Park collaboration, which allows students to earn a public, four-year engineering degree entirely in Tulsa. 

We also recognize that many Tulsans, particularly those from underserved communities, don’t see themselves reflected in stories about “tech jobs” and “emerging industries.” That’s why we’re working with our local workforce partners, educational institutions, and community organizations to ensure that we’re communicating with Tulsans from all walks of life about the opportunities in this industry. We’re also partnering with Arrowhead Consulting to review recruitment and marketing practices of these programs to ensure they are as accessible as possible, and with Madison Strategies Group to provide both additional recruitment pathways and the support services that students need to complete these programs successfully. In addition to these efforts, we recognize that creating truly accessible pathways to these jobs will be an ongoing, multi-year effort, so we are excited to continue building partnerships across our city to sustain and amplify these efforts. 

As the manager of advanced air mobility at Tulsa Innovation Labs how do you work with organizations like PartnerTulsa to support the growth of an Advanced Air Mobility ecosystem? 

PartnerTulsa’s approach to economic development is critical to helping coordinate the wide variety of stakeholders that make our economy thrive, and helping those organizations coalesce around a shared vision for Tulsa’s future. At Tulsa Innovation Labs, we see our role as supplementing these efforts and focusing explicitly in the tech sector, where companies can be more wary of and less savvy about engaging large public institutions. Our small size and industry-specific focus allows us to better understand emerging technologies and find opportunities in earlier-stage, high-growth industries like AAM that aren’t yet mature enough for the city to engage directly. The great thing about the AAM industry, though, is that it requires the integration of exciting new technologies with the traditional manufacturing, transportation, land use, and public-private partnerships at which PartnerTulsa excels. Many cities don’t have an entity like TIL that’s explicitly dedicated to cultivating emerging industries, and we hope that our work can set Tulsa apart from the pack as the ideal place for advanced mobility companies to locate, grow, and hire. 

What makes Tulsa an ideal location for an advanced mobility corridor? 

Tulsa is an excellent location for an advanced mobility corridor — and the advanced mobility industry is an excellent fit for Tulsa. The mobility industry is undergoing the biggest revolution in more than fifty years, with advances in autonomy, connectivity, and electrification creating a wealth of new opportunities. Our efforts in this industry build on Tulsa’s decades of excellence in aviation and aerospace manufacturing, which has given the region a strong workforce and partnerships with some of the biggest mobility companies in the world. Looking forward, we’re seeking to make Tulsa the ideal place to not only build and repair vehicles but also innovate, design, and test the new technologies that will define the next generation of mobility. Core to this effort is the OSU’s excellence in autonomous systems research as emphasized by the newly-created Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education (OAIRE), our proximity and relationships with key regulatory bodies like the FAA’s Mike Monroney Center in OKC,  our deep bench of corporates in the complimentary energy, logistics, and agriculture industries that are likely to be the near-term customers for these new technologies, and the public-private partnerships necessary to tie it all together, as evidenced by our success in the highly-competitive BBB Regional Challenge. This collection of leading-edge R&D, strong corporate relationships, large and able workforce, and a collaborative atmosphere make Tulsa the ideal place for this industry to grow. We’re already seeing this message translating to wins for our city, with innovative Swiss UAS company WindShape choosing Tulsa as its North American headquarters earlier this year and active interest from several more companies.

What project(s) are you most looking forward to seeing come to life as a result of Tulsa being awarded a Build Back Better – American Rescue Plan grant?

The Cluster itself is made up of four projects. First is the LaunchPad Research & Technology Center, which expands OSU’s nationally-leading Oklahoma Aerospace Institute for Research and Education (OAIRE) to Tulsa, with the explicit mandate of focusing on industry-aligned, later-stage research that can help solve problems facing the market today, commercialize technologies, create new startups, and grow high-tech jobs in Tulsa. Second is the Skyway Range, a collaboration between TIL, OAIRE, and Osage LLC to develop facilities that will allow companies to come test new technologies, prove their safety, and gather the data necessary to get them certified by the federal government. The third project involves site improvements at the Port of Inola to enable companies to more quickly build large-scale manufacturing facilities in Tulsa and take advantage of our region’s talented workforce and friendly business environment. Finally, the workforce programs described above will supplement our existing workforce and sure that Tulsans are equipped for the next generations of jobs across the mobility value chain.

The exciting thing about this Cluster is that all four of these projects are deeply interconnected — the expertise at the LaunchPad Center at OSU-Tulsa is a huge draw to the region and a great source of new technology, the facilities at the Skyway Range and Port of Inola are critical to testing and manufacturing these technologies to make sure they reach the market and employ Tulsans, and all of these programs will require a diverse, capable, and nimble workforce to thrive.  Luckily, Tulsa is a deeply collaborative city and the TRAM Coalition has been fortunate to benefit from both strong, longstanding partnerships and new collaborations within our city.