Oklahoma had just what drone maker needed
DURING an interview last week, U.S. Rep. Steve Russell recalled his initial conversations about Oklahoma with representatives of a California company that was looking to expand.
“It's not that they had a bad opinion of Oklahoma, they just had no opinion of Oklahoma,” Russell, R-Choctaw, told The Oklahoman's editorial board. “I'm like, ‘The things you're trying to do we are tailor-made for.'”
The company, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, ultimately decided Russell and other Oklahoma emissaries were correct. Last week, Kratos announced it will be moving at least 350 employees and part of its engineering, design and manufacturing operations to Oklahoma City.
Kratos makes jet-powered drones that can be used for military missile tests and other purposes. The president of the company's unmanned systems division, Steve Fendley, explained one use this way — an F-22 pilot can fly to a spot, then deploy a Kratos drone to travel farther “without having to threaten himself.”
Kratos already has some personnel at a temporary location in Oklahoma City, and hopes to build a permanent site near Tinker Air Force Base to house its research and production offices.
It's an exciting development and good news for Oklahoma, although one Russell wasn't all that surprised to see come together.
“We have a great economy, an affordable tax base,” he said. “We have a workforce that shows up most of the time — we're hard-working people.
“We can provide the technological and the engineering and the manufacturing (expertise). We have a long tradition of that – 100 years of the aviation industry, 100 years of oil and gas. We know about manufacturing and making things. … We've got a lot of things to talk about.”
Fendley said Oklahoma had plenty to offer his company. The list included tax credits for engineers and for companies that bring quality jobs, support for the military and for advancements in drone testing, proximity to military bases, and the potential for a flight test site — in particular, the space port at Burns Flat.
There remains a tremendous need for Oklahoma to produce more engineers, to fill existing aerospace jobs at Tinker and elsewhere and to continue to try to draw high-tech companies from out of state. At the same time, Russell argues the state needs to continue working to produce more skilled laborers, too.
“We should put a premium on education, but at the same time, look at what our CareerTechs do,” he said. “Bang for buck, they're putting people into hard skills where they can immediately go out into the workforce in good-paying jobs.
“You've got engineers, then you've got the engineers who are taking that skilled workforce and showing them how to do composite laminates to make air foils, or whatever it might be. You need the guy making the laminates.”
The addition of Kratos will require workers of all stripes. We're encouraged that the company decided Oklahoma had what it needed, and look forward to a day when the state's workforce is such that the arrival of high-tech companies becomes the norm.