Economic development is more than how much money a city can make. Profits are also measured by quality of community health and health care facilities; easy access or transportation to grocery stores, healthcare and work; sustainable industry and work opportunities and have an emphasis on education. And in today's world how well regional entities and businesses work together for the benefit of everyone. Two essential elements for a community to thrive are a healthy and educated workforce - people.
Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance (NORA) coordinates cooperative opportunities for 14 counties and recently held the 10th annual economic development summit. NORA members have learned that what can be ineffective efforts by a single company or county can become a success when the entities collaborate. About 300 business representatives, community leaders and other's invested in the growth of their towns from Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, McIntosh, Muskogee, Sequoyah, Wagoner , attended the summit held at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah to network and attend workshops aimed to educate, develop strategies and new partnerships
NORA has brought 14 counties together and global companies to our region, said Johnnie Earp, board chairman of NORA and Grand Savings Bank president. His dream is to see the central United States be an economic engine for all of the United States.
"Who is NORA? Farmers, teachers, fishermen, NORA is you and I," said Earp. "We can make a difference by promoting strengths and improving weaknesses with love and lifting people up."
Two keynote speakers offered inspirational perspectives, Dr. Russell Evans, executive director of the Economic. Research and Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University, and Dr. Andy Hines, assistant professor and program coordinator for the University of Houston's graduate program in Foresight.
What will the types of jobs in the future look like? asked Evans of those meeting for the morning session, "What jobs will artificial intelligence replace? The technical will compete with social interaction."
"Think about where you were 10 years ago and where you want to be in 10 years," said Evans.
Oklahoma is less urbanized than surrounding states like Texas, Colorado and Missouri. Evans said the state needs to push back a little towards urbanization with dramatically priced incentives for indivuduals and business.
The US economy is strong, but vulnerable and slowing down, Evans said, "have it on your radar."
"As an energy state we need to be aware of the indicators as part of our energy outlook," he said, "and electric vehicles are not a significant disruptor."
Many counties are losing population but other counties are gaining and at sustainable rates, particularly along the Interstate 35 corridor, Evans said,"geography gets greater returns along Interstate 35."
During the lunch session Dr Hines shared his passion for planning.
"We study any topic- history, future history and a current assessment of trends, scanning for signals of change," said Hines. "Alternative futures are considered, what will change directions."
Purpose can change drivers, as can different types of needs in a community, a sense of place, and new tools.
"Students today need to focus on, not a particular job but a portfolio of skills," said Hines.
Context based learning has emerged as an idea that the best place to learn about something is to immerse in it, whether real or virtual.
"How do we become more effective is with interpersonal skills while using tools and technology," said Hines.
Chief Bill John Baker addressed the lunch crowd, following two educators, NSU President Dr. Steve Turner and Rogers State University President Dr. Larry Rice.
"For Oklahoma to rise to the top higher education is important. We shouldn't be in national news for teachers strikes. And we should deal with why we're top of the nation for incarceration and women in prison, we're the leading state for that," said Baker.
He addressed the funds the tribe infuses in communities, including police and sheriff's departments to help keep communities safe, and promoting the natural resources in eastern Oklahoma.
"We invested a half a million in Bassmasters so people can see our lakes and rivers," said Baker.
Both university presidents promoted the advantages of higher education and economic development through stewardship.
"We have a huge impact on the area preparing students for the future, "said Turner, "and the business community is the voice at the capitol."
Statistics he provided show 72 percent the top 100 careers require some college: 66 percent require an associates degree, 41 percent a bachelors degree, 8 percent a masters degree and higher such as a physician or engineer.
Preparing people for life is critical to our state," Turner said.
Rice said, "We have it all in Oklahoma, land, natural resources, people, and there's nothing more beautiful than watching the sun rise over the lakes."
About 2000 high schools graduate seniors every year, and not all will go to college said Rice, "and you can't make it on minimum wage."
"We know we have social issues here in this area to work on and we have to address drugs and alcohol addiction, we have our challenges," Rice said, "but we have everything else. And we're 10 years down the road farther than we were thanks to NORA."
A variety of workshops and speakers also provided motivating and informative ideas, such as a shark tank of NORA Leadership Class 11 members giving a live pitch of innovative ideas; Raising Community Revenue through Retail Engagement; Medical Marijuana in the Workplace and Communities; Community Marketing, It's What You Say and How You Say It; Developing Your Communities Future Today; Grantwriting 101, Innovation is Rural and Flourishing in Northeast Oklahoma, How the Oklahoma Department of Commerce Can Help; How Career Tech is Shaping Our Future Workplace; and Be in the Know- Insights into the 57th Oklahoma Legislative Session.
Making a difference in community health through addressing poverty and all the issues related to that was the focus for Karen Vinyard Waddell, Executive Director and CEO of the Lynn Institute in Oklahoma City and the speaker for Creating and Sustaining Healthy Lifestyles in Communities. The Lynn Institute works creatively with OKC communities and neighborhoods to increase the life expectancy of children by addressing the most troubling health and liestyle issues with collaborations and accountability. Since 1997 the Lynn Institute has been looking at ways to solve health issues and currently 165 studies are in progress.
"The greatest predictor of lifestyle quality is economics and education," said Waddell.
The institute looks at areas such as crime, community environment, transportation, and healthcare changes.
"Nutrition is critical for children, they say food is the new medicine, along with exercise," said Waddell.
Safety is an issue, parenting is a concern and exercise needs to be fun, said Waddell of some of the other areas of need for communities.
Angela Cosby, also with the Lynn Institute, discussed ways community health and improvements are measurable with qualitative and quantitive statistics.
"Oklahoma is very unhealthy, and it's measurable by county which are very diverse with the type of health issues," said Cosby.
History and assets tell about a community: if it has health care, day care, high school drop out rate, dilapidated neighborhoods, grocery stores or only convenience stores, said Cosby, "a high risk community is a food desert where people only get food from convenience stores."
Identify gaps, said Cosby, set 10 year sustainable and measurable goals, and identify ways to obtain goals.
"Northeast Oklahoma needs strong mental, physical and emotional lifestyles," Cosby said, offering options such as, "health partners include primary care physicians and area restaurants making signature dishes healthier."
Others ways to improve community health include parks, walking trails and community gardens, sidewalks, mentors to help youth stay in school and not drop out, senior centers, addressing dilapidated buildings and addressing mental health especially depression, addiction and suicide.
"Communities lack hope and self-esteem," said Waddell.
"We pulled together groups of people who should have already been talking to each other and a collaboration of people who can talk to each other and trust each other," said Waddell, including churches, grocery stores, gas stations, and other agencies and organizations.
Treat it like intervention, with specialists, passion and relevance by age groups
"We think the issue is addressed with a sustainable Community Improvement Plan. You have to believe in it, have credibility and integrity."
The Cherokee Nation has been part of NORA since its inception, said Diane Kelley, who also serves as secretary of NORA, .
"We see ourselves as partners with cities and communities for well being. We have a lot of partnerships that have developed as the results of collaborations and relationships, we can pick up the phone and call someone in another county or community and always find a friend, and partner," Kelley said.