OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A new bipartisan Senate committee will look at what Oklahoma needs to do to improve its economic development.
The committee will hear from the Department of Commerce and many regional chambers of commerce.
Tuesday was the first meeting with Senators going around expressing their research interests.
Workforce, higher education, and financial incentive packages were all discussed, along with affordable and available housing.
“It’s one thing to have the workforce, it’s another thing to have the housing,” said Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry.
After losing out on Volkswagen and Panasonic, critics have pointed at a number of issues.
Access to abortion and health care rights for trans youth have been a couple major legislative actions that some Oklahomans believe could be scaring away investment.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, the organizer and potential chair of the select committee, did not buy those arguments.
“I think that’s a red herring. I don’t think it plays into as much as some people like to believe,” said Treat.
He said talking to the business community shed a new light on how those issues can become a factor.
“They actually told me it plays more of a factor when you’re talking about headquarters than manufacturing plants,” said the Pro Tem.
But hearing from the business community and the Commerce Department will not happen for another couple weeks, and Democrats want to make sure everyone is ready to be open minded.
“Are we willing to make certain changes to get certain businesses into the state,” asked Sen. Kay Floyd, D-OKC, rhetorically.
Senator Julia Kirt, D-OKC, said the point of these meetings is to hear from industry experts and make the best decisions based on their testimony.
“If we hear from businesses and from those advising us that that’s a concern, I just hope my colleagues can hear that,” said Kirt.
Kirt spent 20 years helping businesses in Oklahoma and wants more conversation around the arts and the creative economy in the Sooner State.
“We don’t want every community to be a cookie cutter, they can’t all be the same, or they don’t keep people there, so what are those things that keep people there: that’s the arts, that’s those main street programs that’s looking at the local culture and how to accentuate it,” said Kirt.
She said healthcare will also need to be discussed as a way to improve and retain the existing workforce.
“If we don’t address getting people access to care early we end up in crisis, we lose workers and we drive people away because the cost of doing business,” said the OKC Democrat.
Even with the conversation focused on how to improve Oklahoma’s economic development, progress could be seen quickly.
During an interview after the meeting, Pro Tem Treat said the Department of Commerce received a new application from Project Ocean, also known as Panasonic.
This was confirmed by Kate Vesper, Governor Stitt’s press secretary.
A spokesperson for the Department of Commerce said it is policy to not discuss potential projects.
We’ll bring you the latest as we hear it.