Clear for landing
In its eighth year, the Oklahoma Aerospace Summit and Expo touches down in Tulsa.
The thousands of Tulsans who witnessed the city’s first foray into flight — a Fourth of July balloon ascension back in 1897 — could scarcely have imagined how important their hometown would become to the aviation and aerospace industries.
More than a century later, the arrival of the eighth annual Oklahoma Aerospace Summit and Expo in Tulsa — June 15-18 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel — pays tribute to the city’s ongoing importance in all things aeronautical.
The four-day event is presented by the Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance, a privately funded industry association representing the more than 400 aerospace companies in the state.
This year’s summit and expo continues a lofty history. What began in 2002 as a joint effort between Rose State College and Tinker Air Force Base to address supplier and workforce challenges has grown into an annual networking and business enhancement opportunity for anyone connected with aerospace.
This year’s programming is expected to draw more than 500 attendees, including a diverse group of aerospace leaders and employees, company owners, government officials, educators and representatives of companies hoping to do business with the Oklahoma aerospace industry.
An important theme of this year’s summit is how aerospace companies of all sizes can best navigate economic turbulence.
“The summit has always carried the ‘Oklahoma: The Global Aerospace Destination’ banner,” says Mary Smith, who directs both the aerospace division of SpiritBank and the Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance. “Due to the changes and challenges that have been manifested in the world economy, a sub-theme of ‘Thriving in Today’s Economy’ is being incorporated into the agenda.
“Aerospace companies, like all Oklahoma companies, need information on how to survive and thrive in a very different and fluid economy. Consequently, breakout tracks that address funding/financing solutions and a series of business-solutions breakout sessions are part of the agenda.”
More than 100 companies are set to exhibit at the expo. One previous exhibitor increasing its presence this year is American Airlines Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (AA-MRO), which employs almost 8,000 workers in Tulsa.
“It has become apparent that the summit and expo is a meeting place for aerospace in a statewide fashion,” says Rachel Henderson, corporate relations manager for American Airlines and OAA co-chair. “As the largest commercial maintenance facility in the world, it is our duty to do our part to promote aerospace and its importance to our state.”
This year’s summit is both the first in the series to be organized by the OAA and the first to be held outside Oklahoma City. According to Smith, the decision to locate in Tulsa was driven by the desire to more fully represent the entire state’s aerospace industry.
“Tulsa has a much larger concentration in commercial and business aerospace, as compared to Oklahoma City, which has a much bigger military MRO emphasis,” she says.
Because it is a statewide event, organizers plan to alternate the summit location between Tulsa and Oklahoma City in future years.
More than anything, holding this year’s summit in Tulsa just makes good business sense. Almost 200 aerospace or related companies are located in the Tulsa region. Collectively, these companies employ nearly 20,000 workers.
“The multibillion-dollar economic impact is essential to the quality of life for all who live and work in the northeast part of Oklahoma,” Smith says. “Tulsa’s aerospace companies are very active in supporting much of the nonprofit world’s needs as well. Plus, non-aerospace businesses depend heavily on doing business with the region’s aerospace companies.”
René Witten definitely sees the summit as a potential economic development tool for Tulsa and surrounding areas.
As vice president and co-owner of Mingo Aerospace, a repair and manufacturing facility in Owasso, Witten knows firsthand how difficult getting a foot in the door at some of the larger companies can be for a small business such as hers. She helped organize a “matchmaking” portion of this year’s summit — designed to provide introductory opportunities.
“OKAero Matchmaking is a segment of the summit that provides a venue for Oklahoma aerospace companies to introduce themselves and their core capabilities to many OEMs — original equipment manufacturers — and aerospace companies in Oklahoma and surrounding states,” Witten explains. “It also helps the OEMs and larger aerospace companies identify new suppliers in Oklahoma.”
Spirit Aerosystems, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Nordam, Flight Safety, Boeing, L-3 Communications/Aeromet, First Wave, Triumph Group, Tulsa Metro Chamber, Oklahoma City Chamber, the FAA and Tinker Air Force Base are some of the confirmed participants in this year’s matchmaking segment.
Smith is confident that the summit will cast Tulsa in a positive light.
“In addition to raising awareness of the importance of the existing industry, economic development efforts will be enhanced as the region’s aerospace companies are showcased,” she says. “Hundreds of aerospace, government, education and training professionals, as well as non-aerospace business owners and legislators, will get a good look at what Tulsa has to offer.”
Pictured: Rachel Henderson, corporate relations manager for American Airlines and Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance co-chair; Mary Smith, OAA executive director and SpiritBank aerospace division director; Mayor Kathy Taylor; Robert Connor, Oklahoma Aerospace Institute executive director; and Fred Cleveland, vice president of base maintenance for American Airlines, at American Airlines' maintenance facility in Tulsa.
For more information about this year’s Oklahoma Aerospace Summit and Expo, visit www.okaero.com/summit_expo.
One of the summit’s highlights is the second annual Aerospace Education and Training Day. Hosted by the Tulsa Technology Center’s Riverside Campus, the day’s activities are specifically designed for teachers and academic counselors.
Since retiring earlier this year, Ben Robinson, former Boeing executive and retired Air Force general, has dedicated himself to the cause of aerospace education, so he’s particularly excited about this part of the summit.
“The Aerospace Education and Training Day is the perfect opportunity to remind our educators that one out of every 10 jobs in Oklahoma is, directly or indirectly, related to aerospace,” Robinson says. “Helping our teachers help our students who, in turn, will someday help the state’s aerospace industry is the goal of the day.”
Soar into aerospace history
Eager to learn more about the history of aviation and aerospace in Oklahoma? A number of museums offer unique perspectives on the Sooner State’s long-term love affair with flight, including:
- Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, 3624 N. 74th E. Ave., 834-9900, www.tulsaairandspacemuseum.com
Offers an incredibly rich look at the history of Tulsa aerospace, including airport history and contributions of major companies such as Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.
- Stafford Air & Space Museum, 3000 E. Logan Road, Weatherford; (580) 772-5871; www.staffordmuseum.com
Offers one of the world’s most comprehensive exhibits on the history of rocket flight.
- Science Museum Oklahoma, 2100 N.E. 52nd St., Oklahoma City; (405) 602-6664; www.omniplex.org
Includes the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame.