SEPTEMBER 17, 2003

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Oklahoma higher ed playing key role in historic economic development project

If a statewide economic development project currently in the works does what state leaders envision, more business and industry could be calling the Sooner State home in the not-too-distant future.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, along with Higher Education Chancellor Paul G. Risser and Secretary of Commerce and Tourism Kathy Taylor, recently announced the kickoff of the ambitious project known as Oklahoma’s EDGE, an acronym for Economic Development Generating Excellence. Risser and Taylor will spearhead the creation and direction of the project.

The goal of Oklahoma’s EDGE is to bring more wealth to Oklahoma and to increase the competitiveness of Oklahoma business and industry, as well as provide greater employment opportunities and assist in economic development efforts within the state.

“We are honored that the governor charged us with the task of helping with this ambitious endeavor,” Risser said. “Higher education is the engine that drives the economy. It has the ability to rapidly increase the economic prosperity in the state.
“This project will not be easy, but Oklahoma’s higher education system is up to the challenge. We are looking forward to collaborating with all stakeholders on this project.”

Henry emphasized that the project is an action plan and not a study and that the final product will not sit on a shelf and collect dust as some other economic development plans have done.

“In the past, we’ve had a piecemeal approach to economic development,” Henry said. “Oklahoma’s EDGE is a much more comprehensive project. We’ll inventory our industries, identify our needs and analyze what’s working and what’s not.”

Upon completion of a draft of the plan, officials will present the findings to the public for input and then compile the final recommendations in early December, Henry said. The compressed timeline has created a sense of urgency that is often lacking in economic development studies.

Oklahoma’s higher education system was given a lead role in the project because of its key responsibilities, such as the production of graduates with skills to drive the economy; the transfer of ideas from the research lab into existing and new businesses; and the creation of a high-quality environment for retaining college graduates and retaining and attracting business to Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s EDGE will build on current and previous work undertaken by state leaders to energize economic development efforts at the local, regional and statewide levels. The project is being guided by a governor-appointed Steering Committee and 23 teams of statewide experts from both the public and private sectors, which will provide bold, innovative leadership and strategic recommendations for directing Oklahoma’s economic future. Each expert team will focus on one specific area, such as aerospace, agriculture, biotechnology, educating the workforce, energy, health care, international markets, manufacturing, research and development, telecommunications, and weather and climate.

The steering committee is comprised of more than two dozen private and public officials who will guide the project and eventually blend the recommendations from all of the expert teams into one integrated plan. The plan should be completed by December.

“We’re excited for what the future might hold for Oklahoma because of this historic and far-reaching project,” said Ike Glass, chairman of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the coordinating board of control for all public colleges and universities in the state. “Even though our state’s economy is more diverse now than in years past when we relied almost solely on oil and agriculture, we must continue to do all that we can to attract other high-paying-type industries to our state if we are to remain competitive. This plan could give us that “edge” we need to sell our great state to business and industry here and abroad.”

Contact: Ben Hardcastle, 1-405-225-9346