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Gray Swoope speaks at Membership Meeting

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

The October 20th meeting of the Oklahoma Business Roundtable featured Gray Swoope, CEO of VisionFirst Advisors, a top economic development and site selection firm based in Tallahassee Florida. The company provides assistance to companies (including several Fortune 500 firms) and strategic planning services for states and communities. To view the meeting online, click here.

The meeting also included economic update presentations from Governor Kevin Stitt, Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell, new Commerce and Workforce Secretary Chad Mariska and Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling.

Workforce and available sites were cited as the two most critical national issues facing companies who are considering expansion and new facility location.

Meeting Highlights:

Workforce: Oklahoma needs to grow the labor force participation rate – we lag behind our region. Remote working is here to stay. Career pathways are very important.

Recruiting Talent: Companies need to be more creative in finding untapped talent. Each age group requires unique and targeted marketing efforts “not just placing a job ad in the newspaper.”

Marketing: Oklahoma should continue to strengthen marketing efforts both nationally and globally – because many companies and potential workers have little or no perception of the state and its many opportunities. A small number of site location firms still help determine a large number of site searches – and the state should continue to heavily market to that group.

Sites: There are very few good industrial sites nationwide and Oklahoma should continue to pursue the development of both local industrial sites and mega sites (to accommodate large projects). Competing states like Kentucky and North Carolina are undertaking new site development initiatives and Oklahoma needs to stay ahead with its ongoing program.

Industry Targets: Oklahoma is well positioned to grow aerospace, biopharma, automotive, energy, business services and advanced manufacturing. Close proximity to education and research institutions is stronger than ever. The state should continue to be laser focused on growing and recruiting these industries.

Swoope provided several examples of today’s corporate site determination factors.

Top Location Factors (Aerospace manufacturing operation) While site determination varies by industry sector and is data driven, a general ranking of key issues are:

30% Workforce (Available and affordable with technical skills and training) 20% Market Proximity (Customers and suppliers) 20% Utility Infrastructure (costs, power and telecommunications) 15% Logistics (transportation) 5% Cost of Doing Business 5% Incentives 5% Proximity to airport runway

He said Oklahoma fares well in overall business and labor costs -- Oklahoma ranks 10th in state and local tax burden and 26th in the recent business tax climate index.

Commerce Executive Director Kisling provided a positive update on the economy and said Oklahoma is one of few states with population in-migration.

He outlined ongoing efforts utilizing ARPA and PREP funding for major infrastructure projects (including broadband), site planning and development, efforts to align workforce services (digital platform) and curriculum and unique childcare approaches to help increase the labor force participation rate.

Prospect caseload continues to be high, and Commerce has recently worked with 44 new and expanded projects representing over 4900 new jobs and $2.8 billion in investment (52% of the announced investment is occurring in Oklahoma’s rural areas).

While in Oklahoma, Swoope met privately with the Roundtable Board, State Chamber executives, Governor Stitt, Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Chad Mariska, the Commerce Department team and the Select Oklahoma (professional economic developers) board.

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