Kaiser Nonprofit Teams With Devon to Lure Tech Jobs to Oklahoma

Kaiser Nonprofit Teams With Devon to Lure Tech Jobs to Oklahoma
A consortium that includes Devon Energy Corp., Williams Cos. and Oneok Inc. is partnering with a Tulsa nonprofit.

A consortium that includes Devon Energy Corp., Williams Cos. and Oneok Inc. is partnering with a Tulsa nonprofit founded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation in hopes of bringing as many as 2,000 energy-tech jobs to Oklahoma over the next five to 10 years.

The group, which also includes the venture capital firm Energy Innovation Capital, has invested $60 million so far and aims to raise more, said Nick Lalla, co-founder of the tech-focused nonprofit group Tulsa Innovation Labs. The goal is to bring new startups to Tulsa and elsewhere around the state to diversify oil-and-gas-heavy economies, he said. 

“Over the past decade, Tulsa has experienced poor economic growth, brain drain and stalled efforts at diversifying its economy,” said Lalla, who helped launched Tulsa Innovation Labs at the start of 2020. “This is truly mission critical for Tulsa’s future.”

It’s a conundrum that small towns all across the US are facing. With local economies long tied to the booms and busts of oil and natural gas pricing, some of those towns are wondering how and when they should prepare for less revenue from oil and gas. At stake is not only hundreds of thousands of US jobs, but also more than $138 billion generated annually through tax revenues for localities, states, tribes, and the federal government.

While energy will be core to Tulsa’s economy, the region will need to pivot more to a technology-based economy, Lalla said. The startups that are targeted by the new venture would tackle research and development through one of three main topics: energy transition, emission reductions and digital applications.

“Just as financial institutions in New York see themselves as big data companies, I think over time you’re going to see energy companies take a similar approach,” Lalla said. “They will evolve into more tech-based companies, and that requires a different organizational structure, different talent and different R&D spending.”

"We would love to see over time an increasing diversification of technology workers in our state," Trey Lowe, chief technology officer at Devon, said in a phone interview. "And not just scientists and engineers dedicated to petroleum, but just a more general technology expertise across the state of Oklahoma."

To contact the author of this story:
David Wethe in Houston at dwethe@bloomberg.net



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