A new tenant at Lawton’s military defense contractor complex is expected to help recruit employees with the high-tech skills companies will need.
The FISTA Development Trust Authority voted this week to set a five-year lease with r4 Technologies Inc., a Connecticut-based company that specializes in using artificial intelligence (AI) to collect data for specific purposes. The company was created in 2013 by the founders of Priceline, said FISTA President/CEO Krista Ratliff.
For the FISTA, the task will be using AI for workforce development, putting Southwest Oklahomans to work, Ratliff said.
“It uses AI to match people with jobs,” she said, explaining that in this instance, those jobs will be those needed by tenants — existing and ones who will move into FISTA in the future — to include those with high tech skills.
The process being used by r4 Technologies already is in use. Ratliff noted, for example, a project that matched people suffering from food insecurity with entities that have surplus food that would otherwise go to waste.
While the company is moving to Lawton specifically to work with the FISTA Innovation Park, it will not be housed within FISTA on the west end of Central Plaza.
Instead, r4 Technologies will find its own space within the mall. Not only is the FISTA space earmarked for high security operations, there isn’t any spare space, Trust Authority Chairman Mark Brace said, adding converted space ready for tenants is 100 percent occupied.
Ratliff said that means FISTA has no obligation to do a build-out for the firm, as it has been doing with military defense contractors that are signing leases and moving or making plans to move to Lawton. While FISTA could designate some money for the project, r4 Technologies will do the build-out itself, finding empty retail space within Central Plaza that is close to the FISTA space being converted in the former Sears retail store.
“We want to get it in the plaza,” Ratliff said, of what she calls a community-driven project that will benefit the innovation park and those in the community seeking jobs.
In exchange for a five-year lease, r4 Technologies promises to have a minimum of 10 workers, who will make an average annual salary of $100,000, under the terms of its contract. Ratliff said the company expects to take six months to hire its full staff, and trust authority members said some are ready to move to Lawton.
“They plan to occupy space within the month,” Ratliff said, adding she doesn’t expect r4 Technologies’ move to be a drawn-out process because company officials want to be in Lawton “as soon as possible.”
The terms of the contract specify r4 Technologies is committed to helping fill jobs within FISTA, today and as FISTA Innovation Park continues to expand and make room for other tenants. As part of its work, the firm will partner with others within the work force while also working with the Department of Defense and Fort Sill.
Ratliff said she expects the company to begin making reports on its efforts to the FISTA trust authority in nine months. While the contract specifies the firm is to make quarterly reports to FISTA’s governing board, the first three-month period won’t begin until the Lawton office is fully staffed.