Thursday was a great day in Southwest Oklahoma, to paraphrase former Mayor Wayne Gilley. Thursday was when state and community leaders gathered to formally open the Fires Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator, also known as FISTA, in Central Plaza.
What began as a vision five years ago, has grown into a multimillion-dollar project. The City of Lawton spent $14 million to buy the former Central Mall and has received $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds and another $1 million in U.S. Housing of Urban Development funds.
The goal of FISTA is to advance science and technology to support the FIRES mission at Fort Sill. To date, five defense contractors and a state university have occupied remodeled space in the former Sears store. Negotiations are underway with at least one more defense contractor and another state university.
The innovation park is expected to employ about 200 people with an average salary of $100,000 in its first 24 months and to create almost 300 related jobs. Plans are underway to finish remodeling Sears and begin remodeling the former Dillard’s store to make room for more defense contractors.
Thursday’s event was a celebration of what has been accomplished so far and looking forward to the expansion and growth of the facility as innovators work with the U.S. Army’s Long Range Precision Fires and Air and Missile Defense cross-functional teams at Fort Sill on weapons’ systems and other projects.
One of those projects will be construction of an anechoic chamber where tests can be conducted on prototype weapons and other systems.
The FISTA center also will provide space for students, from elementary school through college, to create and test their ideas with defense contractors acting as mentors and collaborators. Part of the goal of FISTA is to create job opportunities in Lawton so our graduates will stay local.
Thursday’s celebration was indeed a “some kind of wonderful day” in Southwest Oklahoma, to quote Lawton Mayor Stan Booker.