Education is Goal to Strengthen Oklahoma Workforce

Pryor, Okla.Business, industry and education leaders from across northeast Oklahoma met on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, to discuss the importance of quality education, at all levels, to reinforce the importance of public education to strengthening our workforce in Oklahoma. Participants heard from business and workforce development leaders David Stewart (administrator, MidAmerica Industrial Park) and John Hawkins (Governor's Council for Workforce Development) on how important a strong, educated workforce is to strengthening Oklahoma's economy. They also heard from policy and education experts Steven Crawford (Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administrators) and Superintendent Don Raleigh (Pryor Public School District) on the importance of education to keep Oklahoma competitive in attracting and retaining business and industry. MidAmerica has made a $30 million capital allocation for education, infrastructure development, and land acquisition to get the park ready for future needs, and they understand that without an educated workforce they will not be able to recruit and retain business and industry. Stewart talked about the importance of having an educated workforce. "If we all pull together, I think we can make it happen," remarked Stewart. "They (businesses) cannot be successful without well-trained and skilled employees." According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma's wages lag well behind the national average, at $14.73 in 2010. This places Oklahoma below the national median average and lower than all but 10 other states. Dollar for dollar, government spending on education creates not only the most jobs but also the better paying jobs for Oklahomans. Almost twice as many jobs are created by investing in education than would be expected from tax cuts of equal value. "We've got to start making education a priority in Oklahoma", said Raleigh. "We've got to make the connection that we don't live in silo: business and industry over here; education over there. They are linked. We have to do our job together to find a pathway for our kids." For Oklahoma to have a strong competitive advantage in workforce development Oklahoma must make public education a priority; not just in thought but also in funding. Education is the key to strengthening the economy of northeast Oklahoma. Education is economic development, job creation, workforce development and most importantly, education is an investment in our future. "Workforce development, economic development and education are all the same piece" said Raleigh. The event was hosted by the Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance. NORA a certified 501(c)3, is a collaboration enjoining leaders in northeast Oklahoma in an effort dedicated to the growth, prosperity, and vitality of northeast Oklahoma, and its communities, by promoting regionalism throughout the area, leveraging regional resources, recognizing common issues and identifying collaborative solutions; expanding regional networks, and community our regional story. Coordinators of the summit were the MidAmerica Industrial Park, the state's largest industrial complex; and, the Pryor Area Chamber of Commerce.