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Polytechnic Institute Still a Go for University of Oklahoma?

Even without anticipated developments from tech companies such as Panasonic and the electric car company Canoo, university officials are still committed to opening a polytechnic institute in Tulsa to train tech workers.

(TNS) — Interested parties are still poised to support the University of Oklahoma's plans for a polytechnic institute in Tulsa, even as state efforts in the technology sector have fallen through.

OU President Joe Harroz announced May 13 the university's plans for a polytechnic institute in Tulsa to address state workforce needs in the tech sector and to provide access to the university system in the city.

University officials anticipate the institute will open within the next 16-20 months at OU's Tulsa location.

They hope to have spots for 500 students in five to six years, said Tomás Díaz de la Rubia, OU's vice president for research and partnerships.

Officials at the state Capitol have pushed for advancements in the sector, as well.

The state committed about $300 million in economic incentives toward electric car company Canoo to build a production plant at MidAmerica Industrial Park, and nearly $700 million in incentives toward Panasonic to build a production plant at 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's or Panasonic's plants — in his reasoning behind the institute.

Since his announcement, Canoo has postponed its initiative, and Panasonic has announced 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 the OU facility.

If anything, they see losing Panasonic to Kansas as all the more reason to push for the center.

"There is tremendous amount of workforce development and growth, workforce needs, across the state and across the northeastern part of Oklahoma, where these students are going to be highly qualified and so well-prepared where they will have tremendous opportunity for jobs here in the state," said Díaz de la Rubia, alluding to current development and workforce activity at MidAmerica.

Díaz de la Rubia pointed to Purdue University's polytechnic institute, which he and Harroz said has helped Indiana's tech sector, as a reason to push for OU's 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 institute. State legislators in May voted to approve a $10 million appropriation to OU in the state budget to support the institute.

While Boren didn't vote for the budget over concerns that not enough money was directed to public schools, she still believes it's important to support the polytechnic institute.

"We have to have a pipeline of workforce that is prepared to do that kind of work, and any preparation or any kind of strategy that we know that increases the likelihood that we would be successful in that — like OU is supporting — then we need to support those," Boren said.

Boren still said the state should "be concerned" that Panasonic didn't choose Oklahoma for its plant.

Emily Virgin, D-Norman, argued anti-transgender and anti-abortion bills passed this legislative session may have deterred the company from moving to the state.

Tulsa Regional Chamber's senior vice president of economic development said these laws have deterred companies from moving to the state, The Tulsa World reported Friday.

But Díaz de la Rubia and Harroz still say employers in northeastern Oklahoma need the workers the polytechnic institute 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 potential for jobs at Northern Data, a German tech company that has announced plans to open its United States headquarters at MidAmerica Industrial Park, and Google's data center at the park.

He also argued the institute will help attract more companies to the region.

Carson Colvin, City of Tulsa senior marketing and media relations officer, said the city and entire region "are very supportive of companies focused on advanced technology."

©2022 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.