By Ricky O'Bannon
City and state officials celebrated a major coup Monday as a Belgium aerospace manufacturer officially announced it would bring a facility — as well as 500 to 600 jobs — to Stillwater.
ASCO Industries designs and makes high-strength aircraft components and assemblies for Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer commercial jets. The company is based in Belgium but also has facilities in Germany, Brazil and Canada, and it will open it’s second U.S. facility at the site of the former MerCruiser property on North Perkins Road.
“ASCO makes things, and they make things better than others make things,” said Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb who was at the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Monday morning for the local announcement. “And they’ll be making those things, those products, those items in Stillwater, America.”
Lamb and Stillwater representatives at the announcement talked not only about what the added jobs will mean to the local economy in the short term but looked forward to what the move could mean for the future of the aerospace industry in both Stillwater and the state.
“Twelve hundred companies throughout our state are involved in aerospace. Now to add ASCO to the Oklahoma aerospace family is significant. Everyone knows who ASCO is,” Lamb said. “It’s a Belgian-based company. It could land anywhere. They could be in Europe with the announcement today. They could be in South America for this announcement — Asia for this announcement.
“No, where are they? Stillwater, Okla. They are here for a reason. Aerospace is a burgeoning industry in Oklahoma. ASCO knows that, and that’s why they decided to make this expansion right here in Stillwater.”
With many manufacturing jobs leaving the state in recent years and what is expected to be a shift to a more information-based economy nationally, the lieutenant governor said it is still paramount to secure manufacturing jobs for the future vitality of Oklahoma’s economy.
“If the state is not making products to ship, to export and to create new jobs, any state will start to sink,” Lamb said.
When asked in February about what direction the city should take to replace manufacturing jobs that were lost in recent years, Mayor John Bartley said the future of Stillwater’s economy should be in high-tech industries. On Monday, Bartley said this acquisition brings not only high-tech manufacturing but establishes Stillwater as a player in the aerospace field.
“The state has taken a very strong position on aerospace, and I feel that Stillwater — with this addition — we have jumped to the top and we are going to be able to lead the way,” he said.
Bartley pointed to Frontier Electronics, which supplies parts to Boeing, and Oklahoma State University’s unmanned aerial systems program and research as examples of why Stillwater should compete to be a leader in the field that is primed for even further growth.
“It’s not going to shock me at all if we have a growth in the aerospace industry (here), not just two or three companies but more than that in our area,” he said.
Additionally, Bartley said expanding aerospace opportunities in Stillwater gives OSU students something city leaders have been hoping to offer for a while: A reason to stay in town after graduation.
“I’m that great example of graduating from OSU, moving away and coming back, and I want to cut that middle step out,” he said. “If you have those types of jobs — the tech-based and intelligence-based jobs — that’s what college graduates are looking for and need.”
Stillwater Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Lisa Navrkal said ASCO looked at Stillwater because of its location near aerospace customers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita, Kan.
The Stillwater facility is expected to employ the latest in lean manufacturing, which is a process meant to minimize the amount of material and financial waste in manufacturing. That principle of efficiency means it is possible the company could later try to bring its suppliers either to the Stillwater or the portion of the MerCruiser facility that would be unused even when ASCO ramps up to full production.
“Because of the fact that they want to be very lean manufacturing, part of their processes are still done by suppliers here in the United States,” Navrkal said. “If they can consolidate those suppliers — whether it be in the facility or somewhere around Stillwater — it would make their manufacturing process more lean.”
She said there are no concrete plans to do so at this stage, but it has been discussed as a possibility.
“They don’t have any plans. It is just something they have talked about. It’s a desire of theirs that they foresee in the future,” Navrkal said.
She added the Chamber would consider recruiting ASCO suppliers at a future date.
“We absolutely (would look at recruiting their suppliers) once they get established,” Navrkal said. “We will work with them on further development.”
For its new facility in Stillwater, ASCO will receive the new federal market tax credit and the state investment tax credit and quality jobs incentive. The company is expected to invest up to $100 million locally, and Navrkal said the majority of the 500 to 600 jobs will be new, local hires.
Rep. Lee Denney was one of several officials in attendance for the Monday announcement, and the Cushing Republican said the new ASCO facility is a gain for the entire area.
“It’s a very exciting day for Payne County. Although it’s going to be here in Stillwater, I look forward to them needing workers,” she said. “When you need that many people in the workforce, you are going to need people from Cushing, Yale, Perkins, Ripley — all around the county — to adequately staff the entire facility.”
Monday morning’s announcement in Stillwater coincided with an announcement by Gov. Mary Fallin and ASCO officials at the Farnborough International Air Show in London.
“Oklahoma was the best location for our facility,” said Christian Boas who is the CEO for ASCO Group. “The state is centrally located in North America and has an existing aerospace industry which is thriving. Oklahoma has a highly skilled workforce which specializes in our industry and the state has offered us assistance in training our new workforce.”
The air show runs all week, but companies traditionally make big announcements on Monday.
“I am thrilled to welcome ASCO to the Oklahoma community,” Fallin said. “Oklahoma has one of the strongest aerospace sectors in the U.S., and we are quickly becoming an international destination for the industry.”