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January 22, 2004 :: 'EDGE Is Different' by Chancellor Paul G. Risser

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When Gov. Henry announced the Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) report January 9, much of the initial public reaction focused on tort reform, workers’ compensation and tax policy. This was a normal reaction, especially recognizing the recent media attention directed toward Oklahoma’s tort reform and the partisan politics that have driven much of the discussion on tort reform and workers’ compensation.

More recently, people have begun to realize that the EDGE report is not just another economic development plan focusing on the usual issues. Its recommendations include some of the expected topics, such as tort reform and tax policy, that Oklahoma must address. However, read carefully, EDGE is very different—it points Oklahoma in new directions.

The EDGE recommendations recognize the importance of jobs currently offered by Oklahoma’s business and industry. Nevertheless, despite our economic success, there is no escaping the reality that our per capita income is almost 20 percent below the national average, as is our gross state productivity. Simply continuing our current practices is unlikely to improve our economy. The EDGE report recognizes the futility of not making changes and makes several key recommendations.

There are two primary ways to create net new wealth in Oklahoma. The first is for investors from outside the state to invest their money in our businesses. Second, buyers from outside the state create new wealth when they buy our goods and services. Investors put their money into businesses that offer new goods or services that are likely to be successful in the market or into businesses that are more productive than their competitors.

Implementing innovations generates new goods and services, and employing workers who produce more value per unit time drive higher levels of productivity. Research and highly skilled and educated workers create the necessary innovations and increased productivity. These are precisely the ingredients required to attract investment into Oklahoma and to produce successful businesses that in turn will produce more high-paying jobs. In other words, more innovation and a highly educated workforce will increase our per capita income and boost our gross state productivity.

EDGE recommends that Oklahoma stake its claim as the “Research Capital of the Plains” and create a $1 billion endowment to fuel research. Given Oklahoma’s current research strength, this ambition is realistic. However, millions of dollars will be required to attract and retain outstanding researchers, to leverage substantially more federal research funding and to invest in the initial phases of transferring research results into new goods and services and into higher productivity. Those managing the endowment must direct the research dollars toward projects that are most likely to benefit Oklahoma’s business and industry.

The EDGE report also recommends actions to improve the quality of K-12 education, especially in math and science; to strengthen academic skill-based job training; and directs the state’s public colleges to expand the range of professional development and continuing education courses needed by business and industry. Education leaders are directed to work with citizens to ensure continuity, consistency and accountability throughout our primary, secondary and postsecondary education systems and to reduce the number of students required to take remedial classes upon entering college. All of these actions will increase the productivity of Oklahoma’s workforce, thus increasing our wealth and economic prosperity.

Taken together, the EDGE actions will create a cultural, social and economic environment that will produce more wealth and a higher standard of living for Oklahomans. Moreover, this environment will attract innovative and creative people who thrive in energetic, diverse and engaging communities. With many people taking initiatives and exerting leadership, EDGE will happen, to the benefit of all Oklahomans.