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Q&A: Diverse Energy Portfolio Boosts Manufacturing in Oklahoma

Recent investments include a $1B solar panel factory.

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According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the state boasts a $18.59 billion manufacturing industry that features more than 4,200 firms and employs 125,000 workers. Recent investments include Enel North America's $1 billion project to establish a solar photovoltaic cell and panel manufacturing facility and Blue Whale Materials' announcement of a multi-million dollar li-ion battery processing facility.

Jennifer Springer, the director of business development at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, claimed that the state's energy portfolio, workforce development programs and pro-business mindset are driving manufacturing growth.

In this Q&A with IEN, Springer explores Oklahoma's manufacturing sector and recent investments.

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Nolan Beilstein (NB): Can you provide an overview of the current state of Oklahoma's manufacturing sector and its recent growth and investments?

Jennifer Springer (JS): Oklahoma is home to a $18.59 billion manufacturing sector, with more than 4,200 manufacturing firms employing over 125,000 individuals. Recent investments within this sector include Enel North America’s U.S. solar panel factory near Tulsa, with a planned investment of $1 billion, creating more than 1,000 new direct permanent jobs by 2025.

Blue Whale Materials, a leader in sustainable li-ion battery recycling, also announced its li-ion battery processing facility in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The multi-million-dollar investment will include a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and a 50,000-square-foot warehouse, creating approximately 90 jobs in the community.

NB: How are the state's renewable energy resources supporting the manufacturing industry and helping companies meet their ESG goals?

JS: We are home to a diverse energy portfolio which includes natural gas, coal, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower sources to provide cleaner and more reliable power. Oklahoma’s industrial electrical power costs are 22% lower than the national prices.

The state ranks No. 2 in wind generation, No. 3 in installed wind capacity and No. 6 in solar. The result is that today, nearly 40% of the state’s total electricity is derived from renewable sources and produces 68% more energy than it consumes.

NB: Could you share more about the workforce development initiatives and training programs that the state offers to support manufacturers?

JS: Through its various programs, Oklahoma has created strong connections between students, higher education institutions and employers to equip the state with a highly-skilled workforce, particularly needed for its growing manufacturing sector. Our 20 colleges and universities offer manufacturing technician-related programs.

For more than 100 years, Oklahoma CareerTech has been connecting students and businesses with training opportunities and is projecting 10,000 manufacturing-related program completions over the next 5 years.

The Oklahoma Biotech Innovation Cluster is home to a biomanufacturing workforce training center. As part of a $35 million Build Back Better grant investment, the center will help create inclusive, non-degreed bioscience industry careers in Oklahoma City.

For current manufacturers in the state, The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance works with businesses to help them transform their operations, including assistance with transitioning from manual to automated processes by suggesting new technology, coupled with training services to upskill workers.

At the youth level, Open for Business Oklahoma’s free “Think Like an Engineer” series offers six science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) lessons. Their content is designed to help middle school students put textbook concepts into hands-on practice. 

NB: How is the SITES Program helping identify suitable locations for businesses and improve site accessibility in Oklahoma?

JS: The SITES program (Supporting Industrial Transformation & Economic Success) was created to address statewide site infrastructure needs to meet the demand of existing businesses and companies looking to establish operations in Oklahoma.

The program analyzes the available industrial sites and mega sites, along with the skilled workforce available within a specific region to best identify suitable locations for businesses.

Additionally, in 2022, the Oklahoma Legislature appropriated $780 million towards infrastructure projects across the state to improve site accessibility.

NB: What is driving companies like Blue Whale Materials and Enel North America to choose Oklahoma as their manufacturing base? What’s next?

JS: Oklahoma offers an array of perks – from its low cost of energy and workforce resources to its pro-business policies, site availability and accessibility:

  • Pro-business: Oklahoma offers an extensive sales tax relief program for eligible manufacturers who secure a Manufacturer’s Sales Tax Exemption Permit (MSEP). This exemption includes acquiring machinery, equipment, energy and manufacturing processes at the designated manufacturing site. The state also offers various workforce tax credits in the aerospace, cybersecurity and automotive industries that provide employers and employees with tax credits.
  • Site Availability: Oklahoma has over 27 certified locations and 4,500 industrial sites available for companies expanding or relocating within the state and is currently improving accessibility through the SITES program. 
  • Accessibility: Located in the center of the U.S., Oklahoma’s prime destination allows for streamlined supply chain processes. Companies can utilize our three interstate highways, which connects Oklahoma within a day’s drive to all U.S. markets. We’re home to four inland ports, an international airport in Tulsa and 20 rail operators, providing Class I and II service throughout the state. The Tulsa Port of Catoosa, is one of the largest, most inland, ice-free river ports in the U.S. From our state, companies can access 20 states and the Gulf of Mexico via waterways.

Jennifer SpringerJennifer SpringerOklahoma Department of Commerce

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