Williams Makes Funding Pledge to Help Tulsa Universities Meet Demand for Jobs

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TULSA (AP) -- A $3 million infusion could help higher education in Tulsa stem the outward flow of new high-tech jobs to other cities.

Fred Harburg, a vice president and chief of learning at Williams Communications, told higher education regents Tuesday that the company pledged a $1 million matching grant to bolster high-tech education.

"We have the money to match you," state regents Chairman Leonard Eaton said.

Regents set aside $1 million earlier contingent on a private match and plan to use the money, said Maryanne Maletz, vice chancellor for budget and finance.

Oklahoma State University-Tulsa also outlined its plan Tuesday for an additional $1 million from regents.

All the funding -- $3 million combined -- is expected to help Tulsa-based universities hire faculty and upgrade high-tech curriculum to meet the demand for new employees.

The growth at telecommunications and information technology companies has fueled job growth that has transformed Tulsa's once oil-based economy. But a local shortage of trained workers has forced telecommunications companies to add new jobs elsewhere, Harburg said.

Williams, which operates a 26,000-mile fiber-optic network used by long-distance companies and others, has added 1,200 jobs at facilities in Houston, Denver and St. Louis because there were not enough qualified candidates in Tulsa, Harburg said. WorldCom has hired 1,000 elsewhere, he said. Many of the jobs have starting pay of about $60,000 a year. Tulsa will need 6,300 new high-tech workers over the next five years, officials said.

"We think Tulsa has the opportunity to be an epicenter for high- tech, not just in the United States but in the world," Harburg told regents.

The entire state can benefit from improved high-tech education offerings because it will bring new industry and create jobs outside Tulsa and Oklahoma City, officials said.

Tulsa's private and public universities, colleges and tech school have banded together to form the Center of Excellence in Information Technology and Telecommunications. …