Why Tulsa region needs Vision2 now
BY DON WALKER
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
9/26/12 at 3:10 AM
One of the questions that continues to be asked about Vision2 is: "Why now?"
Why do we need to extend Vision 2025 now? Why not wait until closer to the expiration? Won't these needs still be there in the future? Why the urgency?
As someone who has had the opportunity to dive into this issue, I can tell that you the story is not simple to tell. There are a lot of moving parts at work. But it's those moving parts that can show all of us exactly why voter support is necessary this fall.
Let's look at the immediate needs in the Tulsa region. The aerospace industry is in a state of change nationally. The companies involved are restructuring and consolidating. The days of having several work forces spread across several cities are ending. Aerospace companies, American Airlines included, will be making tough choices in the near future about where they will concentrate their work forces.
As the home of the largest non-military aerospace maintenance facility in the world, Tulsa is in a unique position to keep aerospace jobs and be a top-tier contender for similar companies.
Yet, Tulsa's unique facilities need work. A lot of work. Many of the buildings, where highly advanced maintenance work is done, date back to World War II. One major building needs climate control. Many buildings have outdated and leaking roofs. Another has ceilings too low to accommodate the new jets. The time and cost required to get past these constant obstacles slow down the work. In fact, the companies currently at Tulsa International Airport have spent upwards of $550 million on buildings and infrastructure. That's just to keep those buildings operational. Buildings that we - as citizens - own.
The TIA complex has a $6 billion impact on the Tulsa regional economy and more than 15,000 Tulsa County families are dependent on these aerospace and manufacturing jobs. I am convinced that if we don't retain those jobs in Tulsa, they will go elsewhere. They will leave Oklahoma and may even leave America. Our region cannot afford to lose the aerospace industry. If we do, it's possible that we will face a setback that will take us decades to overcome.
Think back to the discouraging days after the oil bust. If our region loses the TIA aerospace jobs, then high unemployment rates, undervalued properties, a tanked real estate market and small business closures are sure to follow.
Community leaders have been working for months on crafting specific proposals that would address this impending issue without raising the tax rate. The Vision2 plan you see today is a specific framework that will create strong job retention and growth in Tulsa, with quality of life improvements driven by input from citizens. The bottom line is that this is about the jobs needed to be able to move forward as a region - the current jobs we need to keep and the new jobs we need to bring in.
That's why the Vision2 funding includes $386.88 million in infrastructure improvements and fixed asset upgrades at the airport industrial complex, along with a job creation fund to recruit new business and retain existing businesses. This is an investment in ourselves and the infrastructure we own, regardless of whose name is on the door. That's why no cash will ever be given directly to companies. We all profit from these citizen-owned assets in the form of jobs, sales taxes, and major economic drivers.
The point of investing in the TIA complex is to keep it flexible for our future. The stopgap solutions being used today are specific to each company's needs. If American Airlines ceased to exist, would we be able to bring in a successor or a similar industry? With these improvements, we can. The Vision2 improvements are general enough to make the buildings attractive to any aerospace company or industrial manufacturer of large equipment. The alternative - holding onto an outdated facility that no other company can use - is risky and unacceptable.
We have been a region that endures hardship well; we were able to get through the recession in better shape than many other regions. But when we fall, we fall hard. Just look at what the 1980s did to our region and the years of rebuilding we had to do to come back from that. We don't want to be a region that suffers significant job loss and a setback in momentum because we weren't prepared this time. In short, the risk is too great if we wait.
Don Walker is Vision2 co-chairman.
Don Walker: We all profit from these citizen-owned assets in the form of jobs, sales taxes, and major economic drivers.