Lawton’s new complex for military defense contractors will have a generational impact, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday.
Stitt was among the guest speakers for the grand opening of the FISTA Innovation Park in Central Plaza. The Fires Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator (FISTA) Innovation Park already is providing office and work space for military defense contractors who work with Fort Sill and the two U.S. Army Cross-Functional Teams housed there.
Six entities have contracts with FISTA, with negotiations nearing completion on another entity, FISTA Strategic Operations Manager Teira Cole said.
While some of those entities began moving into the newly renovated space months ago, Thursday was FISTA Development Trust Authority’s moment to highlight the complex. Speakers repeatedly emphasized the cooperative partnerships that helped transform what was empty retail space two years ago to what now is the first of multiple renovation projects transforming retail space into work space for defense contractors and education space for youths.
Thursday’s ceremony included comments from U.S. Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole and U.S. Third District Congressman Frank Lucas, U.S. Sen. James Lankford and U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin and Stitt.
Stitt lauded local efforts which complements Oklahoma’s efforts as a whole to become “the most pro-military state in the nation.” Stitt said FISTA fits into that state effort, as well as providing opportunities to keep youth and military personnel in Oklahoma by providing good-paying jobs and educational opportunities linked to technology and science for youths still in school. The military is important to Oklahoma, Stitt said, noting aerospace/defense is the second-largest economic force in the state, contributing $44 billion to the state economy. And FISTA is a strong player in that effort, he said.
“If you’re doing research, you need to be in Oklahoma,” Stitt said of the research applications FISTA is providing for the military, adding the complex fits into Oklahoma’s commitment to the nation’s defense. “Oklahoma is a state that always, always supports our military.”
Local businessman Mike Brown, a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, credits Cole with being a strong player in efforts to get the FISTA off the ground, explaining that when he explained “this thing” to Cole five years ago, “Tom was all in.” Multiple people Thursday credited Brown and Nate Slate as the local “evangelists” who came up with the idea of FISTA and rounded up the support to make it a reality.
Cole said one of the most important things about FISTA is that it was an extraordinary effort that didn’t come from the top down.
“It was from the bottom, up,” Cole said, explaining FISTA was a locally conceived idea, proposed by local leaders like Brown and others who then went to Washington, D.C., for support and funding. “It was an initiative that came from here.”
Not only was the idea local, the initial resources invested into what became FISTA started locally, Cole said, adding he was proud of the community for what it did for itself.
“The stakes here are pretty enormous,” Cole said.