Legislators did realize that to be consistently strong, an economy must be diversified and that science and technology would be the drivers of jobs and wealth into the millennium.
So the Legislature acted, tapping into the experience and wisdom of leaders in business and research. The shared vision was to invest to diversify Oklahoma’s economy — not away from energy, but leveraging other state resources, industries and research capabilities that we could accomplish in addition to energy.
It was a bold idea — reflecting the vision to have government, industry and academia collaborate to get innovative things started, and then possessing the confidence to believe that we could figure out the right touch points that would generate enough leverage to make the vision successful and sustainable over time.
And it is working.
The OCAST model — including its strategic partners the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, i2E, and the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University — is unique in the nation and gets the results that those visionaries had in mind.
Since its inception in 1987, OCAST has generated an impact of $5.4 billion. For every state dollar, OCAST has returned $21.
“People in this state are resilient in terms of entrepreneurial spirit. Oklahoma is very pro-business,” said Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director. “When we are faced with challenges, as we are now, the question is how we even more aggressively grow and diversify Oklahoma’s economy. Have we done enough? No. But are we better off today than in the oil bust years of the 1980s? By many indices, the answer is yes.”
Carolina points out that manufacturing is strong in Oklahoma with about 130,000 jobs. There are 145,000 jobs in the healthcare industry. We’ve documented the many remarkable advances Oklahoma scientists are making in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, arthritis, macular degeneration, diabetes, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and lupus, just to name a few.
In agriculture, the Nobel Foundation is developing the next generation of drought and disease-resistant plants. The University of Tulsa is nationally recognized for cyber security, big data, and data analytics. There is a growing base of knowledge in sensor technology and unmanned aerial systems at OSU. The University of Oklahoma is one of the best anywhere in weather science and radar systems.
OCAST is helping broker the development and commercialization of these and other technologies to help reinvent Oklahoma’s economy and promote entrepreneurship in our state better than we’ve ever done before.
The vision that began in 1987 is becoming reality. The true value of OCAST and the diversification it brings our economy is most evident in tough economic times like we are currently facing.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.