By Scott Meacham
We are in difficult times — and when times are difficult, individuals, business, and even entire states have to do things differently.
Think back to what was happening in Oklahoma in the eighties. It was like living The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath jammed into less than ten short years. The decade started with an incredible oil and gas boom. In banking, there was remarkable growth in assets and profits. Barry Switzer and the OU football team delivered a third national championship. Per capita income in Oklahoma achieved parity with the rest of the country.
And then everything changed.
Energy markets collapsed. Oil rigs rusted in the fields. One-fifth of Oklahoma’s banks failed. The feds were called in to bail out seven of every ten savings and loans. Oklahoma’s per capita income tumbled to 80 percent of the national average.
In this environment, a group of far-sighted and vocal Oklahoma leaders took a stand for change. They declared that not only could Oklahoma—a relatively small state with just over 3 million people at the time—become a hub of innovation, but that innovation was imperative. They encouraged the state to embrace that goal and to get started on what they knew would be a long path to achieving it.
The Oklahoma legislature listened and acted boldly, passing legislation that created the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) as our state’s agency and engine for technology development, transfer, and commercialization.
For thirty-three years OCAST has delivered on its mandate—to grow and diversify our state’s economy by developing new products, new processes, and whole new industries in Oklahoma. Those visionaries back in the eighties believed that technology changes everything. OCAST has proven them right.
OCAST is the hub of the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM)—a public-private partnership with i2E, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA), the New Product Development Center at OSU, and the OK Catalyst programs at the Tom Love Innovation Hub at OU.
“It’s a unique approach that receives national accolades,” said OCAST Executive Director C. Michael Carolina.
The Oklahoma Innovation Model is more than that unique. It is a money-maker that benefits every resident in our state. How?
OCAST delivers $22 in economic impact for every dollar invested. In addition, the OIM private-sector members created a total of 1,908 new jobs last year, including 250 jobs with $92 million in payroll from i2E companies and more than $97 million in sales from OMA-assisted manufacturing firms, $6.7 billion in private and federal funding, and so much more.
Like in the eighties, we are at a crossroads. Whether because of COVID or the high cost of living, people are coming to the middle of the country from the east and west coasts. Oklahoma has what they are looking for.
“The opportunity we have,” Carolina said, “is how do we take a state that isn’t necessarily known for technology, science, or R&D, and show people who aren’t from Oklahoma how much we can do?”
“People from outside our state are surprised by what they find in Oklahoma,” said Carolina. “Our vision is that this state becomes recognized as a technology corridor by embracing partnerships and collaboration between our academic enterprises, our industrial complex, and supportive government programs and policies.”
With our collaborative culture of innovation, our excellence in research, and our support for startups and existing businesses, we are well on our way.
OCAST and its OIM partners and collaborators never push back from the table of opportunity.
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 support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.