The ‘California Project’: Strategy Helps Oklahoma Land More Business

Article by Janice Francis-Smith for the Journal Record

On Feb. 15, just before the COVID-19 pandemic caused many venues and businesses to shutter, the 16-member Latin band Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizárraga, also known as Banda MS, played a show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That was the band’s last live performance in a U.S. arena for 2020 – until Nov. 25, when they are scheduled to perform at Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center.

Under current restrictions related to COVID-19 in California, such a concert could not take place in Los Angeles at this time – but it can in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration wants California businesses to know they can do in Oklahoma what they would not be allowed to do right now in their home state.

During a webinar hosted by Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Sean Kouplen, the secretary and agency Executive Director Brent Kisling spoke of an effort underway that they referred to as the “California Project” or the “California Strategy.”

“I just love that we have Oklahoma billboards in California cities – that just makes me extremely happy,” Kouplen said. “We have billboards in major California cities. We are letting everybody in California know why they should actually be in Oklahoma. We’re seeing some great wins from that.”

“We have a great story to tell right now,” Kisling said. “We actually had a team in California last week. … Part of that strategy that we really haven’t talked about a lot is Oklahoma companies capturing California contracts, especially subcontracting, since there’s so much final work that’s not able to be done right now in California. So we changed our strategy a little bit where it’s just not about pick up your company and move to Oklahoma, it could also be taking that contract and having it fulfilled here in the state and then have that product sent elsewhere.”

Oklahoma’s film industry in particular has seen a boost in production. Over the last few decades, Oklahoma’s film industry has been slowly building a solid infrastructure capable of handling major film productions, and the varied ecosystems in Oklahoma provide filmmakers with lots of options when scouting for filming locations, Kisling said.

Another contributor to this year’s growth in film production projects is the fact that “LA is largely still shut down,” Kisling said, so that production is moving elsewhere – especially Oklahoma.

In March, California Gov. Gavin Newsom put into place statewide restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Newsom’s directives were modified in September and October, but the current guidelines still prohibit indoor private gatherings. While there is no longer a hard cap of 250 people in one location, the state’s new guidelines bar any gathering of more than three households.

Gov. Stitt has repeatedly refused to issue statewide mandates to require masks or restrict the size of gatherings, instead encouraging Oklahomans to use common sense to protect themselves and their families from continued spread of COVID-19.

On Saturday, after a week of record-breaking COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma, Stitt released a statement urging – but not ordering – Oklahomans to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing.

“You have heard me say these things before, but we need everyone to take these actions seriously,” Stitt said. “They work. … Taking these steps together as a state will allow us to continue to keep our lives operating as close to normal as possible. Oklahomans pulled together back in April so we could safely reopen our economy, and I am asking for that same unified effort once again to slow the spread of this virus and keep Oklahomans safe.”

Throughout 2020, Oklahoma has continued to host events, including some that came from other states where restrictions would have made the gathering impossible. For instance, between May and August, Oklahoma City hosted 83 horse shows with more than 414,000 attendees – a boon to local hotels and restaurants. The events were closed to the public, but participants were able to come together exercising proper distancing and sanitary protocols to conduct sales and exhibitions.

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