Governors Kevin Stitt and Asa Hutchinson have joined together to position the Oklahoma-Arkansas region as a national hub for advanced mobility (AM) with the support of partners Tulsa Innovation Labs and Runway Group.
The collaborative effort to support the growth of the AM industry, including drones, electric and autonomous vehicles, battery manufacturing, and transportation and logistics solutions, will create new research and testing space, support local AM startups, attract new companies, and convene industry corporations to test and scale new technologies.
“Oklahoma has a legacy of leadership in aerospace, and I am thrilled with the innovation we are seeing in research and development in autonomous systems and advanced air mobility,” says Stitt. “I am proud of the work being done by our Aerospace and Autonomous Systems Council, our universities, corporations, and entrepreneurs around our great state in advanced mobility technologies. This partnership gives us the momentum we need for this region to lead the nation into the future of mobility.”
With unique urban-rural airspace, legacy aerospace, logistics and retail industries, robust manufacturing workforces, and top-tier university research and military assets, the Oklahoma-Arkansas region is uniquely positioned. Efforts to grow the industry are projected to support the creation of up to 55,000 new jobs in careers such as software engineering, cybersecurity analytics, drone piloting, vehicle maintenance, and mechanical and industrial engineers.
“I have seen enough of space-age mobility and technology in Arkansas to know that drones and autonomous vehicles are no longer the stuff of science fiction,” Hutchinson states. “Arkansas is rich with business and technology entrepreneurs who are fearless in their pursuit of the future. This partnership will accelerate the work on advanced mobility and further enhance our region’s reputation as a leader in technological innovation.”
In February 2022, Hutchinson launched the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility, laying the groundwork for this new bi-state AM initiative. The council is chaired by aviator, investor and entrepreneur, Cyrus Sigari, considered one of the world’s foremost experts on the future of mobility.
“Moving people and goods cleaner, faster, safer, and at lower-cost will benefit everyone, everywhere,” Sigari comments. “What is happening here is special: intentional collaboration, meaningful investments, and strategic partnerships like this position the Oklahoma-Arkansas region to become the Silicon Valley of transportation and logistics.”
Joining together at the Helmerich Research Center at Oklahoma State University, the governors signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to initiate the partnership.
Highlights of this joint effort include partnering with Tulsa Innovation Labs to establish a “Launch Pad” at the Helmerich Research Center at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa to fuel research and commercialization to drive innovation to market and establish home-grown advanced mobility technologies, a complement to the recent “smart mobility” planning grant given to the University of Arkansas.
They will build collaborative programming across the region’s unique urban-rural geographic assets, such as FISTA Innovation Park in Lawton, Thaden Fieldhouse in Arkansas, and a 110 Nautical-Mile Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) corridor for testing and research currently under development in the Tulsa Region for unmanned aerial vehicles.
They will convene companies such as Walmart, QuikTrip, and J.B. Hunt to pilot emerging technologies as well as tap institutions such Tulsa Community College, NWA Community College and Holberton School Tulsa to create accessible workforce development opportunities and a diverse AM talent pool across the region.
In addition, the states will coordinate efforts across existing AM-focused economic development efforts, including Oklahoma Aerospace, Autonomous Systems and Defense Council, and the Arkansas Council on Future Mobility.
The effort will also leverage the region’s ecosystem of academic and research partners, such as Oklahoma State University-Tulsa Helmerich Research Center, University of Oklahoma’s National Weather Center and Advanced Radar Center, University of Arkansas, Southern Arkansas University Tech, University of Tulsa, and military installations Fort Sill and Tinker Air Force Base to build on their experience in the development of sensors, propulsion technology, hydrogen and battery technologies.
Already underway within the super-region is a joint collaboration being led by Tulsa Innovation Labs, Northwest Arkansas Council and Runway Group with support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to establish the “412 Corridor” as an advanced mobility hub further connecting the two geographies.
The Oklahoma-Arkansas region has driven momentum in AM in recent years. Electric vehicle company Canoo, for example, has established a presence in both Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, and recently announced an agreement to provide 4,500 vehicles to Walmart. In South Arkansas, Standard Lithium is actively producing pure battery grade lithium carbonate, further positioning the region as a future leader in this vital element to support the rapid transition to EVs.
In December 2021, The Tulsa Region was named a finalist in the Economic Development Agency’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge to develop an advanced mobility cluster.