Following news from Panasonic, officials stress need for poly OU institute
July 17 – Stakeholders are still ready to support the University of Oklahoma’s plans for a polytechnic institute in Tulsa, even as state efforts in the tech sector have failed.
OU President Joe Harroz announced May 13 the university’s plans for a polytechnic in Tulsa to meet the state’s tech workforce needs and to give access to the city’s university system.
University officials expect the institute to open within the next 16 to 20 months at the OU site in Tulsa.
They hope to have places for 500 students in five to six years, said Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, OU’s vice president for research and partnerships.
State Capitol officials have also been pushing for progress in the sector.
The state has committed about $300 million in economic incentives to electric car company Canoo to build a production plant in the MidAmerica Industrial Park, and nearly $700 million in incentives to Panasonic to build a production plant on the same site. The latter would have brought 4,000 jobs to the state.
In his May announcement, Harroz alluded to electric cars and advanced manufacturing — jobs that would be available at Canoo or Panasonic factories — in his reasoning behind the institute.
Since its announcement, Canoo has postponed its initiative, and Panasonic has announced that it will build its plant in Kansas.
Despite the news, Díaz De La Rubia and Mary Boren, the state senator who represents OU’s flagship campus, say they still support the push for OU’s facility.
On the contrary, they see the loss of Panasonic to Kansas as more reason to push for center.
“There is an enormous amount of development and growth in the workforce, workforce needs, across the state and in the northeast part of Oklahoma where these students are going. be highly skilled and so well prepared where they will have tremendous employment opportunities here in the state,” Díaz de la Rubia said, alluding to the current development and workforce activity at MidAmerica.
Díaz de la Rubia pointed to the Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University, which he and Harroz said helped Indiana’s tech sector, as a reason to push for the OU Polytechnic Center.
In 2019, Oklahoma lost a Saab Group aircraft manufacturing plant to Indiana. Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, said members of the aircraft group decided they couldn’t find the workers to staff the plant in Oklahoma.
Boren, D-Norman, pointed to this loss as an example of why the state needs the polytechnic. State lawmakers voted in May to approve a $10 million appropriation to OU in the state budget to support the institute.
Although Boren didn’t vote for the budget, fearing there wouldn’t be enough money for public schools, she still believes it’s important to support the polytechnic.
“We need to have a pipeline of workforce ready to do this kind of work, and any preparation or any type of strategy that we know of that increases the likelihood of us being successful in this area – as OU argues – so we have need to support them,” Boren said.
Boren has always said the state should be “worried” that Panasonic didn’t choose Oklahoma for its plant.
Emily Virgin, D-Norman, argued that anti-transgender and anti-abortion bills passed this legislative session may have deterred the company from moving to the state.
The senior vice president of economic development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber said those laws have deterred businesses from setting up shop in the state, The Tulsa World reported Friday.
But Díaz de la Rubia and Harroz still say employers in northeast Oklahoma need the workers the polytechnic would produce.
Harroz said the university has spoken to Bank of Oklahoma about IT jobs within the company that could be filled by graduates.
Díaz de la Rubia also mentioned job potential at Northern Data, a German technology company that has announced plans to open its US headquarters at MidAmerica Industrial Park, and Google’s data center in the Park.
He also argued that the institute will help attract more businesses to the region.
Carson Colvin, senior manager of marketing and media relations for the city of Tulsa, said the city and the entire region “are very supportive of high-tech companies.”