Regional Partnership in Oklahoma Demonstrates the Impact of Collaboration
When it comes to economic development, outsiders are always impressed by the ability of Oklahoma communities and organizations to work together to bring new jobs to the state. Oklahomans would just say it’s part of the “Oklahoma Standard,” but the collaborative attitude is something that sets the state apart when competing for new jobs and investment. Economic development organization Oklahoma Southeast (OKSE) is a prime example of communities working together to strengthen and bring success to a region.
“Our collaborative environment is just one of the things that makes Oklahoma special from an economic development perspective,” said Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development. “While each community wants to win new jobs and investment, we also recognize that jobs and investment in any part of Oklahoma is a win. Oklahoma Southeast highlights what a region can achieve when communities and organizations work together to advance economic development in our state.”
Located in the southeastern quadrant of the state, OKSE represents more than 20 communities and counties and has more than 50 members. Through various events and efforts, the organization showcases the unique environment available to businesses that operate in the region, often inviting site selectors who assist companies looking to expand or relocate business operations to visit the area.
According to the organization’s website, “Oklahoma Southeast is more than a geographic region. It is the ideal climate for business, with close proximity to major markets, highly ranked incentive packages, renowned training programs and a pro-business attitude, all strategically located in the heart of the United States.”
“Oklahoma Southeast is successful because of the organization’s structure and the members that make up the organization,” said Larry K. Smith, Director of Rural Business Resource Center at Seminole State College. “The city managers, the economic development folks, Department of Commerce and the many volunteers that make up the whole.” Smith is also a volunteer and member of OKSE and has more than 30 years of economic development experience.
Each year, OKSE participates in the Lieutenant Governor’s Turkey Hunt and hosts the Oklahoma Southeast Golf & Striper Event and the Oklahoma Southeast Trout & Golf Event, in addition to holding monthly meetings throughout the region. The organization also utilizes its website to showcase the region’s vacant buildings and provide information to site selectors and companies who are considering the region.
One site selector with experience with OKSE spoke highly of the organization and the way it can change perceptions.
“I have been invited to participate in several events in the region, such as the Lt. Governor’s Annual Turkey Hunt and fly-fishing familiarization tours,” said Alison Benton, president, Aliquantus Consulting. “I have also had site tours with clients in many cities of the region, including manufacturers, distribution, agricultural, food processing, and others. OKSE is especially good at building relationships and keeping in touch with site selectors often enough to stay ‘top of mind,’ which is a compelling reason to seek more information when a client is looking in the middle of the country for a site. If I have a good working relationship with an area like OKSE, I am more likely to reach out to determine if they would be a good candidate for my clients.”
While oil and gas has traditionally been a major economic contributor to southeastern Oklahoma, the region also has operations in aerospace, manufacturing, agribusiness and others.
“Some of the larger employers in our area are Weyerhauser, International Paper and Trinity,” said Smith. “We have had excellent job growth in aerospace, boat manufacturing, meat production and the energy sector. In most cases our economic development opportunities come from existing companies looking for expansion, in addition to some small startups.”
Members of OKSE believe the region’s workforce makes them successful and helps it stand out.
“Our workforce enters the job market with great work ethic and some valuable skills. Our companies do a fantastic job of taking those attributes and molding them into a highly skilled team of can-do achievers,” said Smith.
But like the rest of the state and the U.S., workforce can be an issue, especially with Oklahoma’s consistently low unemployment rates.
“We have seen a noticeable shift in site selection criteria,” said Steve Saxon, Economic Development Director, Seminole. “We are making tremendous advancements in secondary education in an effort to excel at the hurdles that block other communities. Specifically, Seminole now has a public charter school and a brand new public high school. We believe this will allow local industries to continue to recruit top talent for new job creation.”
These advantages have inspired companies like Cardinal Glass, Huber, Dollar Tree and Big Lots to call Southeast Oklahoma their home.
“Oklahoma Southeast has exceptional follow-up protocol, relationship building, and well-coordinated events, and they should be recognized for creating a great reputation and giving Oklahoma high-marks from the site selection community,” said Benton.
And expanding their partnership to the state level has provided the communities with additional support.
“The Oklahoma Department of Commerce has been a lifetime member of Oklahoma Southeast and helps in every way possible,” said Smith. “Glenn Glass, the Commerce Regional Development Specialist in our area has been a mainstay in organizing our events and keeping the organization headed down the right path. The best part of OKSE is the people and the communities that comprise OKSE. Glenn is the conduit that connects all of these communities and people. We have also worked with the Oklahoma Department of Workforce Development and the Lieutenant Governor’s office for many years.”
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LinkedIn: Oklahoma Department of Commerce