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February 21, 2003 :: State Regents Discuss Process Designed to Increase Oklahoma’s Economic Prosperity

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In response to Gov. Brad Henry’s challenge in his state-of-the-state address that Oklahoma higher education harness the energies of its faculty and students as a force for economic development in the state, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education announced today Oklahoma’s plan for economic prosperity.

The goal of the plan 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.

“Investing in higher education is the fastest way to improve the state’s economy,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “We will involve both creative faculty and private sector innovators who will combine their talents to produce a highly advanced plan.”

Gov. Henry charged Oklahoma’s system of higher education to lead the way in the state’s economic development efforts 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.

“The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education are optimistic about the economic future of Oklahoma and look forward to education’s integral role in its further development,” State Regents’ Chairman Carl Renfro said. “Our work will build on the work that has already been accomplished by state leaders, agencies and civic groups. We are looking forward to collaborating and partnering with all stakeholders on this project.”

Renfro said that state leaders must recognize that today’s economy is much different than in years past, and therefore, the state’s approach in strengthening the economy must be different.

“More companies are moving their capital, goods and services to other countries with lower labor and production costs; mass production is being replaced by companies that add value to their products and services and streamlining their operations; and technology is evolving faster and faster, which forces low-technology companies out of business,” he said.

Oklahoma’s economic development agenda will begin with the establishment of a steering committee later this month or in early March that will guide the state’s economic development plan. The committee will be comprised of key leaders in the private and public arenas, reflecting Oklahoma’s geographic, cultural and economic diversity. Each member will be selected by the State Regents after consultation with the Governor, legislative leadership, business leaders and others. Risser will serve as the committee’s executive director.

“This talented group of men and women will pay a vital role in helping enhance Oklahoma’s competitiveness in the future economy. They will be leaders from various industries who understand the value of innovative technology and are involved in the hands-on management of technological changes,” said Risser, adding that the steering committee would meet monthly through October.

Throughout the planning process, the steering committee, along with other leaders from the public and private sectors, will build an economic prosperity model for the state of Oklahoma, focusing on recommendations in the areas of research and innovation; specialized education; business climate and policies; and leadership and collaboration.

A team of four experts, two from Oklahoma’s colleges and universities and two from the private sector, would begin the process by researching and analyzing topics and technologies that are key components of Oklahoma’s plan for economic prosperity. Other experts will review the team’s findings and recommendations and may suggest changes. The steering committee will then integrate all of the findings into one comprehensive agenda, which would include specific actions to move the agenda forward.

Risser cited two recent studies that showed that new companies born out of university research and development expenditures have a significant positive impact on local economic growth and that the top two factors important in economic growth in order of importance were universities and a skilled work force.

“Oklahoma higher education has the ability to rapidly increase economic prosperity in the state. For example, in just two years a student can graduate from our public colleges and universities and move right into the workforce. Graduate students can also complete their research, which could ultimately turn into new businesses. But, more importantly, it’s the ideas coming out of higher education that get transferred into the private sector that produces jobs,” Risser said, noting that virtually all regions of the U.S. with strong economies today have at least one strong research university.

Risser also explained what characteristics are present in those states that are successful in a “new” or “knowledge-based” economy. He showed how Oklahoma was ranked anywhere from 35th to 40th in the nation in terms of its capability to prosper in the current economic conditions of the 21st century, stressing that Oklahoma could enhance its position in the global marketplace by becoming a better place to do business, excel in new and developing technologies and create better jobs with higher salaries.

“The state’s public and private sectors must determine which key technologies would best position Oklahoma in the national economy and global market, so that the state’s resources and other investment capital can be focused in those specific areas,” Risser said.

Some of the possible key technologies Risser suggested included advanced materials (nanostructures); agriculture; aerospace; biotechnology and biomedicine; energy; information technologies; manufacturing; sensors; telecommunications; and weather and climate.