By Mindy Ragan Wood
MUSTANG – Governor Kevin Stitt wasted no time talking business and economic growth during a regional chamber of commerce luncheon Thursday afternoon.
Yukon, Mustang, El Reno, and Piedmont chambers of commerce organized the luncheon which was held at the Mustang Recreation Center.
Stitt said he believes his vision to make Oklahoma a top 10 state will become a reality. He pointed to several assets Oklahoma has to build a brighter future.
“We are number five in oil production. We’re number three in the nation for natural gas production and most people don’t realize we’re number two in wind production,” he said.
Oklahoma’s central location in the U.S. and its competitive utility prices have kept industry giants like Koch Industries in the state.
“A couple of weeks ago I was with a Google CEO over in Pryor, Oklahoma and they are just finishing another $600 million dollar investment, that’s taken it to over $3 billion dollars invested in their facility over in Pryor. One of the main reasons is our workforce, but also our utility prices was a competitive advantage over other states.”
Stitt took a business approach to provoke collaboration within the state’s agencies and reporting systems. He conducted the state’s first summit with agency heads and cabinet secretaries.
“I have 15 cabinet positions and then every agency head was supposed to report to one of those cabinet secretaries,” Stitt said. “So they had breakout sessions to see how they aligned with the overall goal, where we’re headed as a state, and started working on their four-year and one-year goals and how they’re going to become top 10 in pavement conditions and road conditions and bridge conditions, and education and all the different things that they’re focused on, tourism. It was amazing. They were coming up to me and saying, ‘Governor I’ve worked for the state for 29 years, 30 years and in some cases I didn’t even know who my cabinet secretary was that I reported to. I didn’t know. I’d never sat down with them in a room.”
Stitt said he learned that the top five agencies did not report to the governor’s office, his cabinet, or to the legislature.
“They reported to these unelected boards,” he said.
He compared the practice to hiring a head football coach who can’t select his own offensive, defensive coordinators or his own special teams coach who do not report to the head coach.
“There’s no way to get a good strategy, a good game plan to go get touchdowns and first downs together if we’re not all aligned,” he said. “In early March, we have the top five agencies now that are actually reporting to the cabinet correctly like every other state figured out a long time ago.”
He began his early days in office touring state agencies.
“Just like a new CEO, I wanted to go meet my employees and state agency heads. There’s 33,000 state employees so I set up tours,” he said.
When he toured the state Department of Education he learned the last time a governor had been there was in 1991 during a press conference.
Another first for the governor was his appointment of a chief operating officer to oversee the cabinet, a practice he learned was common for other states. The governor also appointed a digital technology professional to update tech systems for state agencies to better track criminal justice trends, court operations and other programs for data collection.
Stitt was pleased with several measures in the 2019 legislative session including teacher and state employee raises.
While the legislature was doling out more money to state agencies, lawmakers were under a demand to save money.
“The playbook before was whatever is available to be appropriated, the whole argument was, what agency got what? Well we know as business people that revenue doesn’t always go up in a straight line,” he said. “So when you have these good years you’ve got to set aside some savings.”
Stitt said “some Phd that work on our staff,” advised him on how much money had to be set aside so that state agencies did not have to cut services in an economic downturn.
“It was $2 billion in savings,” he said. “Now that sounds like a lot but we have a $19 billion dollar budget to spend. When I took office, we had $422 million in savings and the end of fiscal year 2020 we’ll have $1.1 billion. We are on track, at the end of four years to have $2 billion in savings.”