Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Sean Kouplen brought a message of optimism to the Claremore Chamber of Commerce awards luncheon Thursday.
After taking on the role in January, 2019, Kouplen and the other cabinet secretaries were instructed to put together a top 10 plan, with concrete goals and action steps to make their area of oversight top ten in the country.
“Our job, in the remaining time that we are there, is to execute on that plan,” Kouplen said. “Our bi-weekly cabinet meetings are accountability meetings.”
Kouplen’s top 10 goals were to be in the top 10 of GDP growth, improve the state-wide labor participation rate, generating $5 billion in capital investment over the four-year term, create 50,000 new private sector jobs with an average wage of $55,000 a year, and to be in the top 10 in unemployment rate.
In the first year, progress has been made toward each of those goals, Kouplen said.
During 2019, the state department of commerce and economic development groups across the state called over 4,000 businesses to convince them to move to Oklahoma, and had 60 new announcements of companies coming to Oklahoma, which almost doubled the prior record of 33.
“These announcements occurred in 29 communities,” Kouplen said. “A lot of time people think it’s just Tulsa and Oklahoma City. They’re getting all the deals. They’re getting all the looks. That’s not the case; 29 communities had new announcements this year.”
Between January and November 2019, the 8,700 new jobs were created across the state, though Kouplen didn’t have the numbers for December. The average salary for those jobs was $58,000.
Capital investment had the most astonishing progress, meeting more than half of the four-year goal during the first year.
“$2.9 billion dollars of investment was announced last year in Oklahoma,” Kouplen said. “The highest we had ever had before was $800,000.”
The single largest contributor to that number was Google, which announced an additional $700 million of investment in Pryor.
The sections of Kouplen’s plan where more work is still needed are labor participation and unemployment.
“In Oklahoma, right now, 61 percent of able-bodied people work. Some choose not to work, some don’t have to work, but many, unfortunately, are on a government assistance type program, and don’t work,” Kouplen said. “The reason that is such a problem for us, is because we have about 147,000 open jobs within the state of Oklahoma, right now, to fill.”
As of November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Oklahoma is currently 3.4 percent, below the national average of 3.6 percent, but still only tied for 24th in the nation.
Despite challenges, Kouplen is optimistic.
“I go all over the country selling Oklahoma, all over the world. The governor and I were in Paris at the international air show. And Oklahoma can compete. We can,” Kouplen said. “We’re the 19th largest state from a size basis, the 28th largest state in terms of population. We have the perfect location, the crossroads of all kinds of interstates. We have the most in-land port in the country, right up the road over here. We are top five in every major energy category. We have great abundant natural resources. And we’re the lowest cost state to do business.”
Speaking to business owners and managers in the room, Kouplen said, “I want to stress that I understand that you are the ones that make these statistics happen. I hear politicians all the time talk about how they created jobs and did this or that. The reality is, we don’t do anything. It happens when you all make a payroll day to day. When you add a job, it strengthens us. When you add a customer, it strengthens our state.”