Business Recruitment: It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Source: Executive Director, Brent Kisling Op-Ed for the Oklahoman

Oklahoma is a great place for business. We see it in the strength of our business environment. It’s documented with Oklahoma having the 3rd fastest growing economy in the nation during the last reported quarter and with us staking our claim as the 10th fastest growing net-in migration state in 2022. In 2022 alone, 327 companies looked at Oklahoma for potential projects. That’s up 90 percent over 2018, and if you think that number is too old, it’s more than double what we saw in 2021. We have bundled up this thing called freedom and opportunity and have sold it to the world, and they are buying it. 

One of the first things we did when Governor Stitt came into office was change the mission of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. Our mission statement has always been some version of “creating high-quality jobs” however I don’t believe Commerce creates jobs. Commerce’s role, and our mission, is “to create an ENVIRONMENT where Oklahoma BUSINESSES are empowered to create jobs.” The cards on the table aren’t just incentives and site selection, but also business permitting, taxation, cost of doing business and support services.

As you likely know, one of the entities interested in joining today’s Oklahoma was Volkswagen. We worked with them to place their newest battery cell manufacturing plant at Mid America Industrial Park in Pryor, Okla. Dozens of professionals on the state and local levels worked for months to satisfy their needs and provide an excellent location for them to be profitable. At the end of the day, they decided to locate closer to their supply chain and continue to access Inflation Reduction Act incentives and that means we lost out to our neighbors to the north, Canada.  

Getting the silver medal in economic development doesn’t pay very well, especially in the public arena. With Volkswagen, Oklahoma beat out more than 100 other sites around the United States – places like California, Ohio, Florida, Texas and Mississippi. After looking at numerous sites and considering varying business environments, they decided that ours was the best in the U.S. While we didn’t walk away with the deal, I’m left with a tremendous amount of encouragement that before too long, one of these massive projects is going to land here.

It disappoints me that some folks think because one company made a business decision to locate closer to a supply chain rather than locate in our state it somehow indicates Oklahoma is failing. That’s certainly not the story the numbers tell. We are stronger than any single project. The legacy companies of our state are the backbone of our economy. During 2022, Commerce assisted over 800 existing businesses in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, awarding of specific business grants, funds and other financial assistance. We will continue to serve as the conduit of success for companies in Oklahoma. Great companies – Oklahoma grown or recruited – like Boeing, Sport Chassis, Google, Optomi, BrucePak, Parrish Enterprises, Sofidel, Navistar, Horizon Ag, Seaboard, Flogistix, Spiers New Technology and Bar S Foods – the list goes on and on.  

Oklahoma is a shining star in America right now and we should be proud of where we have come from and where we are heading. We at Commerce are fervently working to showcase the very best Oklahoma has to offer and the world is taking notice. The proof is in our project pipeline, our conversations with potential companies, and just as importantly, the innovation and expansion of our existing companies. It’s all a matter of perspective. 

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