Against the backdrop of a $55 million renovation of the Cox Business Center, U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern spelled out the importance Tuesday of recruiting more people into high-paying construction careers locally and nationally.

The United States has about 7.6 million unfilled jobs with only 6 million people looking for work, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of folks that can work,” Hern said. “But we have to figure out how to give them a little nudge to get them out in these jobs. ...

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“You have to get a job before you can get a better job, before you can get a career.”

Plenty of careers — carpentry, engineering, welding, among them — were seen and heard Tuesday at the Cox Business Center.

Hern toured the facility with state and national members of the Associated General Contractors of America before addressing the workforce gap at a roundtable discussion with local construction employers. Flintco-Manhattan is overseeing the Cox project, which is set for completion in the summer of 2020.

“This is an integral part for our community to grow in Tulsa and become the largest convention hall in the state,” Hern said. “It’s great to see two longtime Oklahoma companies working together to make that happen.”

Hern is a prime example of someone who worked his way up the ladder. He earned his architectural drafting certificate in a concurrent vocational-technical school, which he used to work and pay for his mechanical engineering degree, which he used to gain work as an aerospace engineer for Rockwell. He went on to become a franchisee for McDonald’s many times over.

“We’re slowly losing our stronghold in our technology leadership,” he said. “It’s moving to foreign countries. We still have a lot of engineers who want to work here. We have a major gap. Companies can’t find the right skills of engineers who are in emerging technologies.”

The federal government is working to mitigate that, but the permanent fix is to get children “on the path to better math, better science to replace those folks that are here from foreign countries.

“… You’re not replacing American workers if they are not there. We have got to push our communities, ourselves, to get our kids into those hard classes.”

Jason Martin, Tulsa Vision Builders project director, and Andrew Witte, senior project manager, were among those who accompanied Hern on the hard hat tour.

Martin and Witte said the expansion was about 50% complete. The main elements of the project are the conversion of the convention center arena into a 42,000-square-foot ballroom and the building of a three-story clear glass lobby on the east side of the building.

In addition, the convention center’s kitchen and storage space will be refurbished and expanded.

“The huge challenge obviously is taking an arena and turning it into a multi-use space,” Martin said. “We had six months in demolition and abatement before we ever started construction. Taking a building apart is a lot harder when you are not taking everything down.”

The convention center opened in 1964 as the Tulsa Civic Assembly Center. It was renamed the James L. Maxwell Convention Center in 1985 in honor of former Mayor Jim Maxwell. It later went by Tulsa Convention Center before being renamed the Cox Business Center in 2013

“When you’re renovating a building of this age, there are things, despite everyone’s best efforts and studying the drawings, you just don’t know until you get into it,” Witte said.

The refurbished Cox Business Center, Martin said, will be an ideal complement to the BOK Center, which represents more than $1 billion in public-private development since it’s completion in 2008.

“What you don’t realize that at the BOK Center, there’s something every week or two,” Martin said. “Here, there is something weekly occurring. It supports more of the tax base to bring in people to the hotels and food. This provides for tax money for people outside of this building.”

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Rhett Morgan


Twitter: @RhettMorganTW