OKLAHOMA City was the birthplace of Braniff Airways. Lost it to Dallas, in 1945. Dallas lost it 37 years later when Braniff nosedived into bankruptcy.
In 1986, Oklahoma City tried to lure a major Boeing maintenance center. Lost it to Lake Charles, La., which lost it a few years later when Boeing operations were grounded by the economy.
Oklahoma City went after a $1 billion United Airlines maintenance center. Lost it to Indianapolis, in 1991. United's parent company filed for bankruptcy 11 years later and scuttled the Indy facility.
Tulsa tried to get a plant for Solyndra, the solar panels maker that was a pet project of President Barack Obama and a key supporter, Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser. Lost it. Then Obama, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and every taxpayer in this country lost Solyndra.
Over a five-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at a time when Oklahoma City was in terrible economic shape, we looked to the skies for our salvation. The city tried to attract three major airline maintenance centers — Boeing, United and American.
Lost all three.
But the wings of desire fly in many directions. Boeing is bringing high-paid, white-collar jobs to the city. Loss of the United facility, for which voters had approved an incentives package, created a spark that led to MAPS and freed up tax money that would have gone to United, which would have ultimately shuttered the facility.
The common thread among Braniff, Boeing and United: a one-time snub of Oklahoma. The common thread among Braniff, United and Solyndra: a rough landing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The common thread among Boeing, United and Solyndra: taxpayer incentives.
Unlike Braniff, Boeing or United, Solyndra never got off the ground. Decisions about its future weren't made at the local level. Taxpayers didn't really have a say.
Obama did. Kaiser did. Solyndra officials did. But they aren't talking. Solyndra execs took the Fifth in congressional hearings called to explore how a marginal business had such friends in the aeries of Washington, how the Obama administration fast-tracked a $535 million loan guarantee, how private investors worked it out to get ahead of taxpayers in the list of creditors.
As Solyndra's bankruptcy goes forward, it will be the taxpayers — not Obama or Kaiser — who sit the longest on the tarmac, waiting for a departure time.