Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell

“Play to your strengths.”

“I haven’t got any,” said Harry, before he could stop himself.

“Excuse me,” growled Moody, “you’ve got strengths if I say you’ve got them.”

Over the last few years, there have been a lot of Oklahoman's down on their home state. As your new Lt. Governor, I'm ready to move in a more positive direction. That starts with looking at our current strengths. Tourism is not just one of those strengths, it's an economic force in Oklahoma.

Economic development professionals shouldn't speak of tourism as a lesser goal than other traded businesses. Too many towns are focused on luring that “big score” company that they believe will solve all their problems. Those wins are great, but any business that attracts money from outside the region will improve prosperity within the region, and that includes tourism dollars. Tourism, it has been said, is the front door to economic development. Tourism advertising and visits create a "halo effect" that has a positive impact on our overall image and creates economic development opportunities. Bottom-line: When we can get people to Oklahoma, they're impressed. And the good news is, people are coming here.

As recently reported, visitors pumped $9 billion into the state economy over the past year. That’s a 4.4-percent increase over the year prior. Even with a shrinking Tourism Department budget, state tax collections from tourism have jumped by an impressive 20 percent since 2010. That translates to more than 100,000 jobs, with a payroll of $2.3 billion.

Tourism is already the third largest industry in the state, but I believe we're just scratching the surface. We have a valuable opportunity to talk about our amazing 200 lakes, wildlife, rich tribal heritage, small town charm, and more miles of the most famous road in America in Route 66. We can – and must – do better.

Governor Stitt and I are well aware of the big issues facing Oklahoma from education to healthcare to infrastructure. Promoting our great tourism industry and developing a uniform brand for our state plays a role in that bigger picture.

So Oklahoma, don't tell me you don't have any strengths. You've got strengths if I say you've got them...and you've got one in tourism.

Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell was recently named Oklahoma Secretary of Tourism and Branding.