It's kind of like "The Grapes of Wrath" in reverse.
The Great Depression caused many Oklahomans to head west in search of a better life in the 1930s.
Now aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing is moving more than 500 engineering jobs from California to Oklahoma to cut costs as the country struggles to emerge from the Great Recession.
Boeing will relocate its C-130 Avionics Modernization and B-1 programs from Long Beach, Calif., beginning in early 2011, the company announced Monday. Officials said the move will help the company keep its services affordable and competitive.
"Making a decision like this is never easy, but as we reviewed our anticipated operating costs for the next several years, it became clear that Boeing needs to take major actions on these programs in order to remain affordable for our customers," said Mark Bass, general manager of Boeing's Maintenance, Modifications and Upgrades division. "We remain committed to maintaining the excellent record of performance that our employees deliver for our U.S. Air Force B-1 and C-130 AMP customers during this transition."
Gov. Brad Henry said the looming move will be a boon for Boeing and Oklahoma.
"Because of our rich aviation history and strong business climate, I think Oklahoma is a perfect fit for the Boeing expansion," Henry said. "We will benefit from the company's growth and exemplary corporate culture, and Boeing will prosper because of Oklahoma's proven track record of supporting and growing the aviation and aerospace industry.
"The Boeing-Oklahoma partnership will be beneficial for everyone."
Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Natalie Shirley said the Boeing announcement was exciting news for the state.
"Any day that includes the announcement of 550 new high-quality jobs in Oklahoma is a great one," she said. "Commerce and the (Greater) Oklahoma City Chamber have worked closely to make this type of event possible.
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams said Boeing chose to move here after an intense courtship that carried on for more than six months.
To get a company like Boeing to make such a "substantial move to our market area speaks very highly of Oklahoma City and what we're trying to do here," Williams said.
Williams said Boeing has not given local officials any specifics about the jobs coming to Oklahoma City, but they will be good ones.
"We know they're going to be engineers and researchers, very highly trained and skilled people," he said.
Boeing likely will receive some kind of economic incentives from the city to move jobs here, Assistant City Manager Cathy O'Connor said.
"We don't know the amount yet," she said.
O'Connor said Boeing could be eligible for job creation grants from the city's strategic investment program, which is bankrolled by economic development funds approved by voters in 2007.
The Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust is expected to authorize the city manager to negotiate with Boeing.
Company already has Oklahoma presence
Boeing already has about 900 employees in Oklahoma, including about 700 in Oklahoma City.
The company centralized its Oklahoma City operations a couple of years ago at SE 59 and Air Depot Boulevard near Tinker Air Force Base.
Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan said the company has about 250 Oklahoma City employees working on software upgrades for B-1 bombers.
Hogan said the company intends to begin building laboratories for relocated programs immediately, with jobs to follow next spring.
Boeing plans to move multiple B-1 programs to Oklahoma City by 2012, including those working on radar and aft cockpit upgrades and new communications capabilities for the Air Force, she said.
Boeing workers also are retrofitting C-130 cargo planes with digital technology to bring them into compliance with new Federal Aviation Administration regulations for navigation and communication set to go into effect in 2015.
Those programs employ about 800 people in Southern California. About 550 positions will be relocated to Oklahoma City. The remaining positions will be reduced from the programs over the next two years as contracts are fulfilled.
Some Boeing employees will be relocated when the programs are moved, while other positions will be posted and hired locally in Oklahoma City.
Hogan said it is too soon to tell how those numbers will shake out.
Williams said other companies that have moved jobs to Oklahoma City have had more employees than expected accept relocation, but that can be an expensive proposition for employers like Boeing.