Dear Oklahoma Economic Development Leaders,
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and you are getting geared up for a relaxing Christmas and Holiday Season. On behalf of the Oklahoma Dept of Commerce, I just want to say thank you for all you have done this year to help grow our economy, provide jobs for our citizens, and create opportunities for our next generation to stay in Oklahoma and raise their families here. Your work is paying off.
Even though it is the holiday season, there is a lot going on at Commerce. On the program front, we have three active solicitations happening in December. The first program we are delivering is the Non Profit Relief Program. The Legislature, led by Senator Roger Thompson, Senator Chuck Hall, Representative Kevin Wallace, and Representative Kyle Hilbert and signed by Governor Stitt is providing $25 million in ARPA funds to nonprofits across the state that provide needed social services and were negatively affected financially by the pandemic. The online portal for applying for these grants opened on December 1 and will close on December 15. We have had a number of training sessions leading up to this solicitation period, and we still have more coming up before the portal closes, so if you or anyone else in your community needs information about the program, please respond to this email and I will make sure you get connected to the right people.
The second program open this month is the Rural Jobs Act Request for Proposal. This is a new program in Oklahoma that was championed by Senator Brent Howard and Representative Kevin Wallace. As a small-town boy from Burlington, OK, I get very excited about programs that specifically work to deploy capital in the rural parts of our state. This program is bringing venture capital firms from across the nation to Oklahoma along with their investors to invest in rural businesses. Their reward for making these investments is a 15% tax credit that can be claimed over multiple years. The legislature made $100 million in tax credits available for this program and we received over $500 million in requests. These applications will be scored over the next few weeks and the program will kick off early in 2023.
The third program Commerce is actively delivering today deals with weatherization. The Dept of Commerce has administered the U.S. Dept of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program since 1977, through local community action agencies. In recent years, due to workforce capacity and increasing technical requirements, multiple counties in Oklahoma have been without weatherization services. Commerce, in collaboration with the current community action agency service providers, developed a Weatherization Pathway Forward plan, to restructure the weatherization service areas in a more efficient way, through a competitive bidding process, to better serve the service providers and Oklahoma families. That process is happening throughout the month of December.
On the staffing front, we have made some recent changes at Commerce. Last month Tava Sofsky left the Dept of Commerce to work at the Cherokee Nation Film Office. She had served as the Director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office for many years and had helped us grow that sector to one of the largest in the nation when she left. Fortunately, we had a great bench in the Film Office, and a few weeks ago we named Jeanette Stanton as her replacement. Jeanette has worked in our Film office for 8 years and had been serving as the Deputy Director recently. She has a great vision for the future of the film industry in Oklahoma as well as the work that needs to be done to grow the film workforce.
We have also named a new Director for our Aerospace and Defense Division. I mentioned to all of you this summer that Geoff Camp left Commerce to head back into the private sector, and we are fortunate to have been able to replace him with General Hopper Smith. Hopper has a great history in our state of working in the National Guard and most recently as the Director of the Workers Comp Commission. He is a former legislator and will be a great resource for all of you as we continue to grow our aerospace sector.
And finally on a staffing note, many of you have worked closely with Amy Blackburn who recently left us to become the Communications Director at the Hamm Institute with OSU. She has served as our Commerce Marketing Director the past few years and also served as the State Brand Manager. We will be looking to find a full-time replacement for her, but in the interim, Stefanie Appleton is our Interim Director and can be your point of contact on everything related to Commerce’s marketing efforts.
Our top two priorities at Commerce right now continue to be workforce and infrastructure. The legislature approved almost $1 billion in ARPA and state funds to assist in preparing our infrastructure for more economic growth. Commerce has been meeting regularly with all of the agencies deploying these resources to make sure we are consistent and efficient in the way we interact with our partners across the state who will be making these improvements. You will hear a lot more about this in the months to come.
We are also continuing to work diligently on the workforce needs of the state. The alignment of state resources is a constant effort that we have spent 4 years working toward, but we are also focused on improving our state labor force participation rate and recruiting more talent to Oklahoma from other parts of America. I want to thank all of you who participated in our Impact Partnership Grant program this year and I am very excited to see how these local workforce efforts are already starting to generate fruit. I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion on this topic as we get into the legislative session again this year.
And speaking of the Legislature. I want to congratulate Speaker Charles McCall and Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat on their reelections to their leadership roles over the past few weeks. I also want to congratulate Senator Bill Coleman for being chosen as the new Chair of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee and Representative Kevin McDugle for continuing in his role as Chair of the House Business and Commerce Committee. We look forward to working with you!
In closing, I want to thank Charlene Flanery for hosting us in Blackwell recently, Lisa Powell and the NW Alliance in Enid, Yolanda Creswell in Weatherford for the dedication of your new terminal building, Michael Shannon and Kim Peterson in Guymon, Mike Neal and Brien Thorstenberg in Tulsa with Leadership Oklahoma, Chad Warmington at the State Chamber with the New Legislator Boot Camp, Brad Cooksey in Lawton with the Select
Oklahoma membership meeting, Craig Smith at the Clinton Sherman Airpark PAC announcement, and many, many more. I love traveling the state and hearing what your needs are. It really helps.
As always, if you need anything from the Dept of Commerce, you can just respond to this email, and I WILL respond (email@example.com.) We can’t help if we don’t know…
Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!