Department of Commerce Invests $1.9 Million to Support Oklahoma Manufacturers

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced this week the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding $1.9 million in grants in Oklahoma to provide business and technical support to manufacturing and service companies; and to purchase critical equipment needed to boost workforce training opportunities in the medical sector.

“Supporting innovation in U.S. manufacturing and ensuring that our workers have the skills our businesses need are top priorities for the Economic Development Administration,” said Secretary Pritzker. “The EDA grants announced today will accelerate the growth of Oklahoma manufacturing firms and guarantee that the state’s medical workers are trained using state-of-the-art equipment.”

The EDA investments are:

  • The Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) will receive $1 million to provide business and technical support to Oklahoma manufacturing and service companies to help them diversify their products and expand sales globally. The proposed project is expected to create higher-wage jobs by restructuring business models and targeting new markets.
  • Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City will receive a $940,000 grant to provide state-of-the-art teaching equipment for the new Allied Health facility. The new equipment will support efforts to train students in fields including nurse science, diagnostic medical sonography, health care administration, and dietetic technology. According to the grantee, the new equipment will allow annual program enrollment to expand from 28 to 40 students.

Representatives from the U.S. Economic Development Authority this week presented the grant to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

“One of the things we talk about with economic development is helping communities and companies diversify,” said Jorge Ayala, the authority’s regional director. “Inevitably there are industry downturns. We’re always looking for opportunities to help communities become more resilient to those downturns.”

The grant is the largest single funding OCAST has received. The state technology agency said it will match the grant with $500,000 in state funds and use the money to work with new and existing partner companies throughout rural Oklahoma. The grant is designed to create at least 340 jobs over the next two years.

“We have some challenges in the energy world now, so there are a lot of companies as well as individuals who need to transform or move to other areas of work,” OCAST Executive Director C. Michael Carolina said. “So we’re going to help work with pivoting from energy into other markets. We do expect that the energy industry will come back. That’s great, but it’s an opportunity to show flexibility in our state by taking companies that manufacture a product and look at other applications for those products.”

OCAST already is working with a dirt-moving company that sells and maintains attachments for Caterpillar tractors designed to help set up oil-field rig sites. That company is exploring how to use that technology on farm tractors to boost agriculture development.

Another company designs valves and parts for oil-field equipment and is adapting that technology for aviation and defense uses.

“The oil and gas companies have always been a little skittish about looking for new markets. They always want to work for oil and gas because that’s huge money,” OCAST Programs Director Dan Luton said. “We want them to always have that, but by helping them become more efficient and realizing they can do both, now they’re ready to penetrate new markets. So we help them find those new markets and write a road map for them to penetrate those markets.”

OCAST has partnered with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University to help provide specific, technical guidance to the oil and natural gas services companies.

“We have lots of small manufacturers in Oklahoma that are connected to the oil and natural gas supply chain that unfortunately have been through 30 percent to 50 percent layoffs,” said Robert Taylor, director of the development center. “We’ll go in there and help them with the skills they have to put new products in place so they can start hiring some of those people back or at a minimum stop the layoffs.”

In some cases, companies likely will choose to create new businesses or separate entities rather than expanding an existing company. OCAST has partnered with nonprofit high-tech business incubator i2E Inc. to help get those companies started.

“If you can grow locally and organically grow companies across the state, that’s a tremendous value to those communities,” said Rex Smitherman, senior vice president of operations at i2E. “You’re creating new jobs, new opportunities for folks who live there. They don’t have to go elsewhere to find work. That’s big.”

Besides boosting the individual companies and their employees, the grant also is designed to enhance the economy of rural Oklahoma and the broader state economy, Luton said.

“For the state, it’s diversification to keep us from hitting this bad budget cycle because oil and gas goes down,” he said. “Industry will continue to do business, continue to hire, during the downturns and the state won’t be so dependent on one industry.”

The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance along with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, i2E, and OSU’s New Product Development Center forms the Oklahoma Innovation Model. It is an integrated solution for innovation. OCAST funds qualified research, i2E then delivers concept validation and secures growth-stage capital. The Manufacturing Alliance helps ramp innovation from the concept or startup-stage to full-scale manufacturing implementation.

Each without the other three would be challenged to have substantial economic development. Together, the partnership provides the best return on investment in the creation of high-wage jobs, especially in traditionally underserved rural areas of the state.