One Year Later, Lawton-Fort Sill’s FISTA is a Model for Public-Private Innovation

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it’s my honor and responsibility to ensure Oklahoma’s military installations and defense partners have what they need at the federal level to protect and serve our nation. What’s equally important, however, are the investments our communities make within themselves to support America’s warfighters and protect Oklahoma’s future as a national defense hub.

One year ago this week, I joined with the Lawton community for the grand opening of the city’s newest public-private partnership, the Fires Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator (FISTA) Innovation Park, where tomorrow’s technology empowers the warfighter. Lawton Mayor Stan Booker, city leadership, Governor Kevin Stitt, and our federal delegation all took part in the unveiling of this historic, game-changing investment for the future of Lawton and Southwest Oklahoma.

Back in 2017 the U.S. Army began looking for ways to partner with entrepreneurs, innovators, and higher education institutions. The establishment of eight Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs), including Long-Range Precision Fires and Air and Missile Defense at Fort Sill helped focus DOD and industry efforts to identify and address gaps in transportation, munitions, and technology. Lawton took a seat at the table, knowing the future of U.S. Army modernization is integral to the survival of Lawton-Fort Sill.

What came out of those early partnerships was a need to leverage strategic collaborations to modernize our armed forces and strengthen military communities like Lawton. As our nation adapts from conventional to modern warfare, our defense needs have changed, and it’s more important than ever that we adapt to the needs of today’s warfighter.

The City of Lawton and Fort Sill are more than ready to meet this challenge and have created a model for how communities can evolve.

In just one year, FISTA is already paying dividends to our state and our national defense. They’ve created an environment where defense partners want to invest in Oklahoma, bringing high-paying jobs and bolstering future community development. In one year, FISTA has doubled their size—with 30,000 square feet currently under construction. Three of the top ten leading defense contractors; Raytheon, Leidos, and Northrop, are proud to call FISTA home. Importantly, FISTA is on track to create 225 additional high-paying tech jobs within the next two years, and 275 additional service, retail and other ancillary service jobs which will benefit community and military family members. By conservative estimates, FISTA has generated $50 million in local financial impact in the past 12 months.

Public-private partnerships like FISTA put Lawton at the center of advanced weaponry and engineering, which fuels recruiting and attracts desirable business from across the nation to Oklahoma’s growing defense industrial base. 

It’s important to recognize that community support from Lawton has been integral to FISTA’s year one success. The city has stepped up to establish educational partnerships and internships, educate residents, and secure state and federal buy-in. Lawton and FISTA are also working together with the DOD’s SkillBridge Program to help America’s veterans transition from military service to civilian employment.

FISTA has recently become an approved STEM partner with the city, which means that Lawton-Fort Sill is working directly with defense contractors at FISTA to ensure and local educational institutions and trade programs are meeting the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. This partnership is vitally important for keeping family-sustaining jobs in Lawton.

Every high-tech company looking to invest in Lawton asks about the workforce pipeline, and I commend Lawton-Fort Sill for taking such a proactive role in meeting workforce needs and safeguarding Lawton’s long-term economic future.

Mayor Stan Booker often says that innovation makes America stronger, and Lawton-Fort Sill’s support of the U.S. Army’s modernization is key for Lawton’s long-term economic success. Mayor Booker is right, of course, because in Oklahoma, we know that what’s good for our military installations is good for the communities that surround them. Nowhere is that more evident than here in Lawton-Fort Sill.

On this exciting one-year anniversary of the FISTA’s opening, I want to congratulate the Lawton-Fort Sill community and FISTA for showing Oklahoma and our nation how public-private partnerships can be a model for supporting America’s warfighters and protecting our military communities for generations to come.

This opinion piece first appeared in the Lawton Constitution HERE