The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) “Tech Hub” designation for the Tulsa Hub for Equitable and Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA) is a defining moment for our city. This designation is a significant component of EDA's strategy to invest in regions with the potential to become global hubs of innovation and a significant endorsement of our region’s strength in driving technological advancements in key Tulsa industries. It is also a clear indicator of Tulsa's strategic shift toward creating, utilizing and selling cutting-edge technology to strengthen our local economy.
This designation will bring a host of benefits to the Tulsa region – from creating more opportunities for good jobs that don’t require four-year degrees to improved access to funding for a thriving entrepreneurial community. In the post that follows, we'll explore THETA's technological focus, its impact on a global scale and how it can benefit all Tulsans.
What is THETA?
THETA is set to transform the Greater Tulsa Region into the primary hub for innovation and talent in Secure and Trustworthy Autonomy, meaning the safe and dependable use of autonomous systems. This effort is led by a group of local leaders in government, industry, higher education, workforce and economic development. At the heart of THETA's mission is creating technologies like drones, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing and other complementary industries. These technologies are not just futuristic concepts; they are already operational, conducting tasks such as pipeline inspections and swift parcel deliveries. On a larger scale, their widespread adoption has the potential to improve public health, increase mobility, lower the cost of manufacturing, protect Americans on the battlefield and facilitate a cleaner energy transition.
As these technologies become more integrated in lives, it's important to know they're safe and reliable. For instance, in a time when machines like drones can work on their own, we need to trust that they won't unexpectedly fall out of the sky into our backyards. THETA will be at the forefront of designing, testing and bringing to market these new technologies to ensure that people can use them without sacrificing safety, security, privacy or public trust.
Why this Tech Matters
The pace of innovation in autonomous systems (e.g., drones, self-driving cars, robots) has accelerated rapidly over the past 10 years, making the possibilities of widespread use more tangible and the challenges more apparent. Incidents like drone crashes or self-driving Uber accidents have demonstrated that security and trustworthiness are every bit as important as technological advancements in the development of autonomous systems. Tulsa, along with the rest of the U.S., must rethink how these systems are designed, tested and manufactured.
Tulsa – a city with strong university-based research institutes in unmanned aerial systems and cyber technologies, infrastructure assets like the Skyway Range flight corridor, existing capital investments in autonomy, and a legacy of aerospace and energy innovation – has all it needs to become a global leader in autonomous technologies over the next decade. Building upon this strong foundation, we foresee further THETA growth and investment in new workforce training programs and good jobs, additional investment and resources from state and federal sources, a healthy capital ecosystem for new and existing entrepreneurs, revitalization of “Black Wall Street” as a hub for Black tech talent and the establishment of new facilities that help turn innovative ideas into long-term economic growth.
Tulsa's Tech Hub Impact
The Tech Hubs investment could open the door for Tulsa to bring about $4 billion of the $1.36 trillion global autonomous systems market into the local economy and generate nearly 200,000 new jobs over the next decade. Through THETA’s intentional focus on equity, these jobs would enable the Greater Tulsa Region to add more than 66,000 women and 39,000 Black, Latino and Native American people to the region’s workforce.
THETA will drive innovation in use cases of the future such as enabling the safe integration of drones into urban airspace for efficient deliveries, ensuring the secure and private sharing of data, and developing greater capacity to manufacture drones in the U.S. Furthermore, the employment prospects created by the Tech Hub and technologies like the ones mentioned above encompass four main categories including business, engineering, production and tech occupations. These jobs span a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, resource industries (such as crop management and applications in the oil industry),consumer goods (like autonomous cars), healthcare, retail (including customer deliveries), transportation, utilities, and government roles (e.g., security).As we embrace continuous investment and expansion in Tech Hubs designated cities, our current workforce will be well-prepared to excel in the era of automation.
What Comes Next?
The Tech Hubs designation, granted by the Biden-Harris administration, positions our region for a potential federal investment of up to $75 million. In Phase 2 of Tech Hubs, THETA is tasked with proposing three to eight tightly interconnected projects across four broad categories: Workforce development, business and entrepreneur development, technology maturation and infrastructure. These projects will demonstrate THETA’s long-term, transformational vision and execution plan for shaping the future of autonomy and positioning our city to lead the way in emerging industries.
In conclusion, THETA is not just a single plan for EDA’s Tech Hubs program — it’s an all-encompassing effort to turn Tulsa into a tech powerhouse. As the world accelerates toward the future of autonomy, Tulsa must now push forward into a new era of innovation, economic growth and job opportunities on a regional and national scale.
THETA consortium members include: Oklahoma State University, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa HigherEducation Consortium, the University of Oklahoma Tom Love Innovation Hub, The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, Osage Nation, PartnerTulsa, Accenture, Airwise Solutions, Applied Energetics, Association for Uncrewed Vehicles Systems International, Canoo, Cherokee Nation Aerospace & Defense, Fortress Information Security, Helmerich & Payne, L3Harris Aeromet, ONEOK, Osage LLC, QuikTrip, Skydweller Aerospace, Team8, UAS Cluster Initiative, Williams Companies, WindShape, Black Tech Street, TEDC Creative Capital, Tulsa Innovation Labs, edX, Holberton Tulsa, Madison Strategies Group, Oklahoma AFL-CIO, Indian Nations Council of Government, 36 Degrees North, America’s Frontier Fund, Atento Capital, Build in Tulsa, EIC Rose Rock, Radius Capital, Lightship Foundation, inTulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce, ImpactTulsa, Tulsa Tech, Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and Tulsa Community Foundation.