Inspiring Innovation: OKC seeks to continue momentum as district grows
At the crossroads of Interstate 35 and Highway 77 and just blocks away from both the State Capitol and downtown’s thriving Central Business District, Oklahoma City’s budding innovation district is helping diversify the city’s growing economy and bringing international notoriety.
Ground-breaking discoveries made by Oklahoma City-based researchers have helped put OKC on the map as a contender in the bioscience and technology marketplace. In fact, students travel from across the globe for an opportunity to take part in the prestigious Visiting Research Graduate Traineeship Program at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF).
The expansion of this bioscience and biotechnology industry is paying big dividends, contributing more than $6.7 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 51,000 jobs throughout Oklahoma.
Certainly, there’s no denying that exciting things are happening in and around this “innovation district.” And there are no signs of the progress slowing down anytime soon.
Oklahoma City was selected in late 2015 as one of only two cities in the country to participate in the Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking, a joint initiative of the Brookings Institution and Project for Public Spaces. The two groups have begun an 18-month study of the area encompassing the Oklahoma Health Center and Automobile Alley. The initiative will use quantitative analysis of both local and national data as well as stakeholder interviews to audit the innovative industries and networking and physical assets in the burgeoning district. Drawing from this study, Brookings and PPS will work with community leaders to create a unified vision and specific strategies for the district’s future growth in order to bolster the district as a key driver of the regional economy.
“Cities have become the undisputed engines of national economies and the vanguard of policy innovation, but many are still held back by compartmentalized approaches to growth,” said Bruce Katz, Brookings vice president and the Brookings leader of the Bass Initiative. “This transformative gift will allow us to suggest ways to break down traditional city development silos and use cities’ inherent benefits to inextricably link efforts to foster innovation and build quality places.”
Additions in the community will include the 95,000 square-feet GE Global Research Center, which will open its doors this year. The project will add 130 high-tech jobs and is expected to have a direct and indirect economic impact of $13 million on the state and local economies.
The benefits in this growing community will not only have an immediate impact on today’s workforce, but also on future generations. The GE Foundation has pledged resources to help ensure that Oklahoma students are prepared for the growing demand of high-tech jobs through the introduction of STEM Empowers OK – a statewide initiative to engage and inspire greater interest among high school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Oklahoma has developed into an epicenter of new technologies that enable new resources,” said Michael Ming, general manager of the GE’s Oklahoma City Global Research, Oil & Gas Technology Center.
As the bioscience and biotechnology communities continues to grow and prosper, it will serve as a catalyst to help create an economic environment where innovation thrives. Today, nearly 40 biotechnology companies call this area home and areas of research span from cancer and cardiovascular to vision and infectious disease among many others.
“The biomedical science environment in Oklahoma City has dramatically changed in the last 10 years,” said Dr. Dewayne Andrews, senior vice president and provost of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) and executive dean of the OU College of Medicine. “All the changes have been very positive.”
Dr. Lorin Olson, a researcher in OMRF’s Immunobiology and Cancer Research Program, came to Oklahoma City six years ago from New York after looking for a job that would allow him to be an independent researcher, set up his own lab and satisfy his curiosity, he said.
He found what he needed at OMRF with the equipment, the core facilities, the knowledge base of the people and resources. He said he enjoys showing off Oklahoma City to those from far away who don’t realize what Oklahoma has to offer, often surprising them.
“I found that the people and the environment here at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation were superior to the other places where I saw opportunities,” he said. “I think I am as well supported as I would have been anywhere else if not better.”
When considering relocating to Oklahoma City, scientists first look at the research that they can do here.
They want to know the answers to questions like: Will they be thriving scientifically? Is the environment intellectually stimulating? Will they have the resources and funding they need to support their research? Are there opportunities for networking within their fields?
Those who work to recruit these scientists mention the quality of both the Oklahoma Health Center complex and the revitalization of Oklahoma City as strong selling points. And the answer to many of the questions above is “yes.”
Another selling point is the ease of doing business in Oklahoma City. The city has garnered a national reputation for being business-friendly, receiving top rankings from numerous national publications as one of the best places to start a business.
“Oklahoma City is expanding, and it is essential that our dreams for this community expand as well,” said Roy H. Williams, CCE, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Luckily, Oklahoma City is also a place for doers – a community of people who see dreams as a blueprint to reality. We are a city with a proven track record of making things happen, generation after generation. We are planting the seeds for a better future, and the choices we make today could be the bragging rights of the next generation.”
These seeds include an area where innovation thrives in a growing Oklahoma City. As new technologies continue to bring world-class researchers and developers to the area, it also will be where some of the nation’s best minds gather to live, work and play.