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National cyber director touts Tulsa's advancements in tech sector

United States National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr., left, poses for a picture with Black Tech Street Director Tyrance Billingsley on Thursday, June 20, 2024, at Oklahoma State University - Tulsa.
Max Bryan
United States National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr., left, poses for a picture with Black Tech Street Director Tyrance Billingsley on Thursday, June 20, 2024, at Oklahoma State University - Tulsa.

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In an effort to fill half a million available cybersecurity jobs in the U.S., a White House official visited Tulsa on Thursday to highlight local partnerships designed to increase hiring.

During his visit, National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. addressed a crowd alongside representatives from several Tulsa organizations.

Coker said there are nearly 500,000 open cybersecurity jobs available in the U.S. right now.

"In order for our nation to be as strong as it needs to be — and that includes economic prosperity — we need to fill those positions. We need Tulsa to help us with that," he said.

Tulsa was federally recognized last year as a technology hub, meaning the region has a plan to enhance its tech sector and become a global leader in the field over the next decade.

Tulsa Innovation Labs Public Affairs Director Justin Kits confirmed the partners that earned the tech designation — such as his organization, Black Tech Street and the University of Tulsa — submitted a grant proposal for $70 million in tech hub implementation funding.

Kits said the consortium would use the money to produce technology such as drones, self-driving cars and robotics.

Kits said Tulsa is "having a moment" in the tech spotlight.

"This moment is a testament to the resiliency of Tulsans, and our continued belief in our community and its ability to do big things," said Kits.

During his address, Coker gave a nod to Black Tech Street, which aims to get 865 Black Tulsans jobs in the tech sector by 2030.

"When they reach that goal, that number will actually bring the percentage of Tulsa's Black tech workforce on par with the national Black population," Coker said.

"The greatest change is still yet to come," Black Tech Street CEO Tyrance Billingsley said in his address. "Technological advancements in AI, quantum computing, autonomous systems and cybersecurity will only further revolutionize our lives, creating new forms of economic opportunities, but also opening the door to new threats to our personal and national security."

Security at the city level is something Mayor G.T. Bynum discussed at the event in light of the 2021 ransomware attack on Tulsa's municipal IT system. The attack disabled for months networks used inside police cruisers, navigation systems for firetrucks and business permit processing.

Bynum said the city has improved from its available response at the time, which was "for people to run through the building, unplugging the servers."

"We are keenly aware as a city and as a community of the importance of cybersecurity and the way that cybersecurity impacts the daily lives of Tulsans," Bynum said.

Bynum said Tulsa is "uniquely positioned" to become a leader in producing a cybersecurity workforce, noting efforts at the University of Tulsa to make this happen. Before his address, Coker visited the university, which offers a master's degree in cybersecurity and has a cyber innovation institute.

"You're developing a model here in Tulsa, and to be very clear — you're not lowering any standards, none at all," Coker said.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.