He's days away from being the lieutenant governor of the State of Oklahoma. Before that, though, Matt Pinnell was an entrepreneur.
As a self-proclaimed advocate for small business growth in the state, Pinnell was the perfect choice for keynote speaker for Claremore's State of the Chamber luncheon.
He spoke about several key issues in the state, beginning with the recent failure of a state question proposing that the lieutenant governor and governor run on a single ticket.
"You had a ballot question asking if you want the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket. That failed. I have a lot of reasoning why I think it failed. First, I think we put way too many state questions on the ballot. Things that can be fixed at a legislative level need to be fixed at a legislative level. We do not need to pass the buck onto a state ballot," he said. "By the time we get to the state questions on the ballot, our eyes have glazed over. You get there and it's one paragraph. And depending on how that one paragraph is worded—most people don't know what they're looking at and they vote no."
He added that, "Over the next four years it is Governor-elect Kevin Stitt and my plan to show you what that may have looked like if we had run as a ticket. The relationship is a true partnership…I didn't know him before he decided to run for governor, but most everybody else didn't know either. But we are operating now as if we had run as a ticket. From day one you'll see that put in place."
Economic growth and development
Pinnell explained that Stitt has created a transition team that is divided into seven different taskforces. One taskforce, which focuses on economic growth, was led by Pinnell.
"To do everything else—to have great core services, health care, education, infrastructure, which we all want—we have got to have economic growth.
There are 28 million people in that state to the south of us—I forget it's name. That's why sometimes they refer to themselves as a nation, that state to the south of us. We have less than 4 million in the Oklahoma," he said. "So when we cross that invisible line to the state down there that has better roads and education, one reason is they have a heck of a lot more taxpayers…We have got to put a plan together in this state when it comes to economic growth."
Pinnell said he believes Oklahoma, as a state, is too dependent on the oil and gas industry.
"I've talked to the oil and gas industry, they would like a much more diversified economy, too. Because every time the state needs a check, we go back to the oil and gas industry. A few months ago, yes, the price of oil was doing great things. And now it's not. So we are constantly on a roller coaster down at the state capitol. Arkansas would love the rock we have to frack. Because they don't have it, they are much more diversified.You have to think outside the box. Moving forward that's going to be something the governor and I are absolutely going to get in front of," Pinnell said.
John Feary, executive director of Claremore Industrial & Economic Development Authority, was pleased to hear Pinnell's stance on economic development.
"As economic developers we here at CIEDA are excited and inspired by the incoming administration's commitment to economic development and entrepreneurial endeavors. Lt. Governor-Elect Pinnell understands the challenges and opportunities facing northeast Oklahoma. The creation of quality, primary jobs throughout all industries has been and will continue to be the backbone of our economy," Feary said.
"I am also extremely excited to hear the the incoming governor and lieutenant governor understand the importance of a diversified OK economy that is not as dependent on the oil and gas industry. CIEDA is excited to see what the new administration's next few years has to offer in assisting us help Rogers County become the place to live, work, and play."
Small business growth and workforce development
To the gathering of Chamber of Commerce members and guests, Pinnell said he believes small business growth, entrepreneurs and workforce development all have issues to be addressed.
The concept and usage of incubators and accelerators is something Oklahoma residents will be hearing more about over the next four years.
"They go hand in glove with workforce development. This was another huge area. I'd talk to companies every day that would say 'Matt, I'd hire people every day if they could do two thing—if they could do the job, and if they can pass a drug test. But they can't do either one.' This points to a skill gap that is a national crisis. What have we done? We demonize kids that go the vocational route…but now we've woken up," he said.
Much of the packed room nodded in agreement.
"The good news is we can start turning that ship around pretty quick because we have the best career tech infrastructure in the country. We have great higher-ed facilities as well. Other governors in the country are envious about our career tech infrastructures.
We don't do a good job of telling that story. But it's a cultural shift that has to happen.
I can tell you, though, we're at a tipping point."
He praised the hard work being down by Oklahoma's main streets, and gave special recognition to the progress made by Claremore Main Street.
"Lieutenant Governor-elect Pinnell spoke highly of the quality and importance of small business in Oklahoma, which is something we are passionate about at Main Street. Small business is the backbone of our economy, and I'm glad to see cultivating entrepreneurs, the Oklahoma Main Street program and tourism will be focuses for him for the Lt. Governor in the future," said Jessica Jackson, executive director of Claremore Main Street.
Tourism in Oklahoma
Pinnell passionately spoke of tourism as the third largest industry in the state.
"We have assets all across this state that we are not taking advantage of. There are 75 million Baby Boomers in this country. They control over 70 percent of all disposable income. And 99 percent of them are going to do what next year? Travel. RV sales are at al all time high in this country," he said. "And we have more miles of the most famous road in the world than anyone else. And there's one page on Route 66 in the 254 page long in the travel brochure in the department of tourism. And that's going to change. We've got to play to our strength. Tourism is a clear asset, a clear strength."
He said no other state can match the history and heritage of Oklahoma.
"California and Florida are doing their thing with the beaches, but nobody can match what we've got," he said.
The budget allocated for marketing the state as a tourism destination is $2 million per year, he said. To put the number in perspective, Pinnell said the State of Michigan spends $28 million per year.
"You get what you pay for," he said.
After the luncheon wrapped up, Wayne McCombs, executive director of the JM Davis Arms & Historical Museum responded to Pinnell's message on tourism.
"Mr. Pinnell understands just how important tourism is in Oklahoma, especially the international and national draw that Route 66 has become. Tad Jones with the Memorial, Tanya Andrews with Visit Claremore and Andy Couch with the Museum of History and I are excited to work with Pinnell and the state tourism department in promoting Claremore and Route 66," McCombs said.
The soon-to-be lieutenant governor reflected on a time in the country when bold decisions were being made and change was being affected.
To move the state forward, he said, "It will take bold moves once again and I cannot wait to get started."
Pinnell ended his speech on a high-note and Rogers County Treasurer Jason Carini said he expected nothing less.
"I've known Matt Pinnell personally for about 15 years. I've seen him behind the scenes and in the community. I'm encouraged by how he ended his talk today. He referenced the Apollo Mission and how bold America was in shooting for the moon," Carini said. "A lot of times politicians talk just to talk. But with Lt. Governor-elect Pinnel, you know there's substance. It was inspiring and encouraging. It's a great time to be in Oklahoma."