The federal government is providing Tulsa with a lucrative boost toward innovation and technology.
Tulsa is one of 21 recipients to be awarded a Build Back Better-American Rescue Plan grant in the amount of $38.2 million, the Biden administration and the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced Friday.
The funds will be used by a Tulsa-based coalition of organizations from the government, nonprofit, academia and private sectors to create the Tulsa Regional Advanced Mobility — or TRAM — Corridor.
Its goal is to cultivate a diverse hub for research, development and production in the advanced mobility industry, resulting in an anticipated generation of 30,000 to 40,000 jobs — the equivalent of $3.5 billion to $5 billion in economic activity — over the first two to three years.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says “advanced mobility” goes “beyond traditional vehicles, components, and fueling infrastructure (and) focuses on the development of new technologies for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles with an inclusive systems-level focus on how to best integrate those technologies with other energy systems.”
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“As an increasingly complex sector, advanced mobility requires unique capabilities that cross research domains to explore how mobility technologies perform in real-world situations,” the NREL says on its website.
The Indian Nations Council of Governments will serve as the lead institution for the local coalition’s efforts to build the TRAM Corridor. It will work with multiple partners, including Tulsa Innovation Labs, Tulsa Ports, Oklahoma State University, Osage LLC, the city of Tulsa, Partner Tulsa and the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
The projects that will be created as part of the TRAM Corridor are designed to address economic disparities, particularly among tribal, Black and other minority populations in and around Tulsa.
The 21 Build Back Better grant winners across the nation participated Friday in an online event with President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo.
“This is a huge win for the Tulsa metro as we look to expand advanced mobility opportunities in northeast Oklahoma,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a statement. “I want to thank all of our coalition partners for coming together and identifying unique ways that we can put these funds to use. These projects will all have a huge impact on Tulsa and the entire region.”
Build Back Better “is the marquee of the (Economic Development Administration’s) American Rescue Plan,” designed to rebuild American communities while boosting pandemic economic recovery.
Advocates say Tulsa is uniquely positioned to build the TRAM Corridor due to its long-standing legacy in the industries of aerospace, oil and gas, and manufacturing. Through this, industry leaders can create a more inclusive workforce with the core components of diversity, equity and inclusion while creating pathways to quality careers for all Tulsans, the advocates say.
“Oklahoma State University is the state’s leader in aerospace and aviation, with specialized infrastructure dedicated to the research and design of unmanned systems,” Oklahoma State University President Kayse Shrum said in a statement. “As a land-grant university, we’re committed to using research to address society’s most pressing problems, empowering Oklahoma’s workforce and providing access to a quality education.”
The TRAM Corridor proposed four projects to attract and support growth in the advanced mobility area in Tulsa. The four projects are:
The establishment of a 114-nautical-mile Beyond Visual Line of Sight commercial flight corridor. “Beyond visual line of sight” refers to the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles and drones at distances outside the normal visible range of a pilot.
The expansion of research and development activity in the region by opening the LaunchPad Research and Technology Center at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, which will focus on developing new technologies to meet rapidly-evolving advanced mobility industry needs.
The expansion of the region’s skilled workforce through the funding of certificate programs, degree programs and apprenticeships, as well as the development of a Labor Market Observatory to consistently track and align the needs of the advanced mobility industry to the region’s talent.
The construction of an industrial treatment facility that will treat more than 4 million gallons of wastewater per day to make 2,200 acres of industrial property “pad-ready” to attract advanced mobility industries to the Tulsa Port of Inola.
“Tulsa Ports has always served as a regional transportation hub and economic driver for our community,” Tulsa Ports Board Chairman Dewey F. Bartlett Jr. said in a statement. “This final piece of critical infrastructure will provide the 2,200-acre Tulsa Port of Inola industrial park the ability to recruit jobs and investment for the benefit of northeastern Oklahoma and our multi-state region.”
This new grant from the EDA comes on the heels of a recent partnership between Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to create a “super-region” for advanced mobility focusing on drones, electric vehicles, battery manufacturing, and transportation and logistics.
“This honor from the White House affirms Tulsa Innovation Lab’s vision for tech-led economic growth and Tulsa’s right to win in advanced mobility,” Jennifer Hankins, head of partnerships with Tulsa Innovation Labs, said in a statement. “This is an important step towards realizing our vision and transforming Tulsa into an inclusive, thriving city of the future.”
Arthur Jackson, senior vice president of economic development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said in a statement that the grant should pave the way for improvements that will attract more large-scale business partnerships.
“This grant funding will also expand workforce training opportunities, spur technology growth and position our region as a leader in advanced mobility,” he said.
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