OKLAHOMA CITY (OBV) – Workforce development took center stage Wednesday morning at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Leaders from The State Chamber of Commerce spoke in front of the third meeting for the Oklahoma Senate Select Committee on Business Retention and Economic Development.
For the past several years, state leaders have made a concerted push to recruit new cutting-edge businesses to Oklahoma. The committee was created to look into the current ways that the state is executing it’s economic development plans.
“I think a high tide raises all ships. So we want to make sure that we’re creating a competitive business environment, support what we’ve got, grow what we’ve got, and then bring in new entities as well,” said Sen. Kristen Thompson of Edmond.
State Chamber CEO and president, Chad Warmington, and State Chamber Research Foundation executive director, Ben Lepak, shared workforce development research that shows that more than 60% of state company owners consider workforce issues their biggest hurdle to doing and growing a business in Oklahoma.
The Chamber laid out plans to create a new workforce entity that would better coordinate workforce pipelines at all levels across Oklahoma.
“We’ve been, for the last year and a half, looking deeply into the workforce ecosystem of the state and why we don’t have the workers we need for the economy that we want to have. And as we’ve been doing that, you can’t look at workforce development without looking also at economic development. So we’ve been looking at states that do it really well and we see some common elements in both those structures. We were excited just to come talk about what we’ve learned on workforce development,” said Warmington.” I think with the Governor and the legislature taking a deep look at how we execute economic development, it’s an exciting time to get both of those things right. We just wanted to come share what we have learned. We want to be helpful and lend our support to the effort.”
Lepak and Warmington pointed to states like Ohio, Florida and Indiana that have overhauled their workforce entities to achieve great economic development results. These plans all include a private business leadership component as part of their models. They say a plan similar to Virgina’s might be the best fit for Oklahoma.
“I think in Oklahoma, we want a little bit more say from our government than what some states are doing. Virginia’s got kind of a nice hybrid model.
It has business leaders on the board, it’s got state leaders on the board, it’s got legislative leaders in the board. The board that’s coordinating is made up of a good mix of public and private officials that are giving it direction and scope,” said Warmington.
“I am a fan of public-private partnerships. I think the private sector is much more flexible. We can pivot a lot more quickly than government does, but we have to have oversight in place. We are guarding taxpayer dollars and that way we’re being intentional,” said Vice-Chair Thompson.
The Chamber says a taskforce created by Governor Kevin Stitt in January, coupled with SB 621 (still awaiting passage through the legislature), set the stage for our state to take huge steps in creating solutions for workforce issues and continue the push to recruit new business to our state.
“I think it’s a tremendous success that we’re even in the running for these things, like the fact that we were on the map for the last couple of these economic development projects. They’re not over yet, by the way, either. We’re still in the running on those. That is a really good sign that people are paying attention to what Oklahoma is doing,” said Warmington
“I think any good strategy says, ‘okay, we’re getting close. What are the parts that we’re not getting right and let’s go fix those,'” said Warmington. “So I think it’s a tremendously good opportunity. I think the governor and the legislature, working together in this interim, can really perfect how we operate. We can be set to have a much better chance of landing those companies when we get into position.”