The Oklahoma City region has seen incredible growth in its aerospace sector and maybe nothing highlights that more than its employment growth. According to a new report issued by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, employment in the sector has grown by 6,640 jobs, or 18%, since the last report in 2015.
“Growing the aerospace industry has been one of the highest priorities we’ve had at the Chamber,” said Jeff Seymour, executive vice president of economic development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “That industry has been critical in helping drastically diversify our regional economy the past decade.”
The report now estimates there are 291 public and private sector establishments directly engaged in the industry, with 43,250 workers in these establishments earning an annual labor income of $3.4 billion. The industry added 55 new aerospace establishments, a 23% gain, since 2015.
Looking even further into the numbers, where the jobs are being added presents an exciting picture for Oklahoma City. With Tinker Air Force Base and the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center being located in the metro, public sector employment has been the bedrock of the local market.
While that continues to be the case, the study found that the private sector is outpacing strong gains in the public sector, creating a stronger balance between public and private sector activity. Private sector employment now makes up 38.7% of the overall number and private labor income increased to nearly 30%.
“The private sector growth is extremely exciting to us,” said Seymour. “Tinker and the FAA will always be the cornerstone of our region but further diversifying the type of work done in Oklahoma City is just as critical as diversifying our full economy. Traditional MRO activities are our bread and butter but the more entities that we have in our region along the full lifecycle of an aircraft does nothing but grow the economic potential of aerospace here.”
The study found that when you combine public and private sector employment, statewide, Oklahoma is one of the top-10 largest aerospace markets in the U.S.
Growing employment in the industry also helps add highly skilled workers to the Oklahoma City region. For example, 1,900 engineers were added to the workforce between 2015 and 2020. The industry also tends to pay higher wages. Wages in most aerospace occupations generally exceed the overall state average, with median hourly wages generally above $20 per hour. The median hourly wage typically exceeds $40 per hour for engineers, air traffic controllers, pilots and software developers.
Tinker continues to be the economic engine of the region with its more than 26,000 workers. The FAA Center is the second-largest aerospace employer in the region with more than 5,150 workers. The center is home to the highest concentration of FAA civil servants and contractors in one location outside Washington D.C.
Boeing is the second-largest aerospace and defense contractor in the U.S. and has greatly expanded its presence in Oklahoma City in recent years. Boeing is the largest private aerospace employer in the region with approximately 3,660 employees and the largest federal contractor in the state.
The Oklahoma National Guard and major industry players like Northrop Grumman, CACI, Southwest Airlines, AAR Airframe Maintenance and Field Aerospace are some of the other major employers in the region.
This past year the region also saw several exciting announcements when it comes to unmanned aircraft development.
In June, Skydweller Aero Inc. selected Oklahoma City for its U.S. corporate headquarters, with initial plans of 75 jobs in OKC. The company is involved in producing solar-powered unmanned aircraft. Kratos, which produces unmanned aircraft for the U.S. military, announced in July they were awarded a five-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract valued at up to $400 million for the development, integration and prototype air vehicle delivery in support of the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program.
“I think the exciting thing for our region is we truly believe we are just starting to scratch the surface of aerospace’s potential in Oklahoma City,” said Seymour. “The advantages our market provides to entities who do business in the aerospace sector are coalescing at an exciting time.”
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