By Molly M. Fleming
The Journal Record
TULSA – Commerce Secretary Sean Kouplen is tired of getting calls from businesses saying that other states are trying to recruit them.
He wants to start making those calls to companies in other states, he said.
He has asked Oklahoma Department of Commerce staff members to research the states with the worst business climates. When the results are in, he’s going to pick five states and start calling their companies.
“In 90 days, you’ll see our guerrilla marketing campaign where we’ll go into certain cities with billboards and advertisements, telling those companies, ‘Here’s what you have,’ and ‘Here’s what you could have in Oklahoma,” he said.
Kouplen was the keynote speaker Thursday at the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors’ commercial market update. The event was held at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.
Kouplen still works full-time as Regent Bank’s chairman and CEO. The secretary position is unpaid. Oklahoma Department of Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling handles the department’s daily operations, but reports to Kouplen.
Kouplen said his personal goal is to bring 100 out-of-state CEOs to Oklahoma this year.
“As you all know, people’s perception of Oklahoma and the reality of Oklahoma are 180 degrees,” he said. “It is a remarkable state to live in.”
The aggressive business recruitment strategy is one of five goals set by his 10-person advisory board. The group consists of experts in different economic development categories.
He said one initiative is improving workforce development programs. Chief Administrator of MidAmerica Industrial Park Dave Stewart is working on creating a workforce development plan.
“We have to align workforce development with education,” Kouplen said.
Another goal is to help cities and the state partner better on recruitment efforts. He said there shouldn’t be an “us versus them” strategy, where the state or a city feels like they’re competing on getting a business to an area.
He’d also like to see more of the money in the state put toward supporting innovation.
He plans on doing more to support existing business as well, he said. He’s hosting monthly dinners with companies at the Governor’s Mansion. In two weeks, the Commerce Department will feature its first “Oklahoma Success Story.” He asked the crowd to give him ideas of what companies would be good to feature.
Another way he’ll support existing businesses is with three new business councils: minorities, tribes, and nonprofit leadership. These councils will meet quarterly.
The tribal business council will feature leaders from the state’s 10 largest tribes.
“Instead of working against the tribes, we want to work with them,” he said. “We want to see what (business) incentives they can offer as well.”