To thrive in a global economy, Oklahoma needs to focus on education and maintain its pro-business environment, said an economic policy expert.
Deborah Wince-Smith, who serves as president and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness, a nonprofit focused on economic development, is spending the week in Oklahoma meeting with business leaders and the governor’s office.
The council includes CEOs, university presidents and labor leaders who essentially form a think-tank aiming to guide nonpartisan public policy.
“The most important issue for Oklahoma and every state ... is to ensure that they are developing talent and a skilled workforce to compete in an extremely competitive 21st century economy,” she said.
Children need to be prepared to support the economy of the future, which will include jobs in high-tech manufacturing, research and development.
She suggested Oklahoma is already on track, first citing Gov. Mary Fallin’s initiative as National Governors Association chairwoman.
The initiative, “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs,” points out the importance of post-secondary education, noting that college or professional degrees have replaced high school diplomas as the standard level of education.
In a letter to the organization, Fallin names STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — as some of the best areas of study for Oklahoman students.
“(These students) will be best prepared to capture the high-wage jobs of the next decade ...” Fallin wrote.
Despite the demand for engineers, many schools are turning away prospective students, Wince-Smith said. The programs have a finite amount of resources for students. Oklahoma State University is one of the few that doesn’t.
“Without engineering skills, we can’t create the future,” Wince-Smith said.
Oklahoma also is succeeding in creating an environment in which business and innovation can thrive, she said. In terms of taxes, fiscal policy and regulations, the state is economically welcoming.
“There are a lot of states in this country where there’s a lot of innovation capacity, but companies are moving out,” she said. “Oklahoma has a very competitive advantage here.”
She also heralded Oklahoma’s dedication to the oil and gas industry.
The Council on Competitiveness, founded in 1986, advocates for American economic growth through innovation, economic resilience and sustainable energy. It also backs public-private partnerships and nonpartisan policy.
Wince-Smith personally advocated for cooperative action, like that displayed by the council, for positive change.
“You can’t advance a lot of the things we’re talking about as just a business initiative,” she said.