State aerospace development agency starts second year
Formed last November, Oklahoma Aerospace Commerce Economic Services (ACES) is a statewide program for advancing Oklahoma’s aerospace industry by bringing together a comprehensive partnership of aerospace and defense organizations and companies, academia and government agencies.
Its director is Don Wetekam, a retired Air Force general with more than 40 years of experience in the aerospace industry, serving in key leadership positions in both the government and commercial sectors. From 2007 to 2018, he served as an officer with AAR Corporation, a leading aerospace services company. Prior to that, he served 34 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as lieutenant general after his final assignment as Deputy Chief of Staff for Installations and Logistics in Washington, DC.
At the recent Oklahoma Aerospace Forum, Wetekam provided an overview of the first-year accomplishments of the new program and a look into what the future holds.
In its first year, ACES held quarterly advisory forums to introduce the program and gather input from aerospace leaders across the state. At the latest forum, the group discussed workforce development, promoting the industry and Oklahoma's presence in the global aerospace market.
The first year was about getting organized, Wetekam said, developing web program that shows all aerospace businesses, coordinating trade show visits and meeting business owners.
Over the next year, Wetekam said ACES will establish "strategic working groups" of aerospace experts focusing on workforce, technology and propulsion sustainment.
He also wants to see Oklahoma "win" at least 15 aerospace projects, where a company expands or begins operations in the state.
One of the main constraints for growth in the state’s aerospace economy has been a lack – perceived and real – of a readily available qualified workforce. A goal of ACES is to be a conduit between the industry, government and higher education, including universities and CareerTech institutions.
The sector is the second-largest and fastest-growing economic sector in the state and has sustained a large role with employers like Tinker, Boeing, American Airlines and others with a historic presence in the state.
"We've done it reasonably well by paying attention to it," Wetekam said. "There's a lot of gaps in that, though. Our goals are to close those gaps, and I think for the first time, the state has some of the resources now to close those gaps."
ACES draws its partners from leaders in every facet of the aerospace industry – aviation, space, commercial, government and defense, general aviation, unmanned systems, research and development, manufacturing, maintenance and repair, supply chain, education and training, and more.
“As Oklahoma’s second largest industry, aerospace is critical to our state’s economy,” said Vince Howie, Director of Aerospace and Defense, Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “The ACES program will bring together Oklahoma’s aerospace leaders – industry, military, education and more – to support and foster growth of the aerospace industry.”