By CHRIS EVERSOLE
Members of the chambers of commerce throughout Canadian County responded enthusiastically to Gov. Kevin Stitt when he spoke at a joint meeting of the groups Thursday.
They fed off his energy, optimism and humor as he summarized his accomplishments since taking office in January and outlined his plans to raise Oklahoma to a Top-10 state.
The key to his ambitious agenda is collaboration, he told members of the Yukon, Mustang, El Reno and Piedmont chambers.
The event was held at Mustang’s Town Center.
“I can’t do this by myself,” he said. “It’s everybody working together.”
Stitt is using his business background as a model for forging a cooperative culture.
“People ask me what’s been my biggest surprise,” he said.
“It’s how much fun I’m having. It has been a blast for me to travel the state and meet all the people as a fourth generation Oklahoman.”
Stitt noted that he “went to school in Stillwater.”
A member of the audience replied: “Go Pokes,” and Stitt quickly responded: “I’m a little more neutral now.”
The governor described a one-day summit he held with department heads and key administrators – with the goal of getting them aligned on one-year and four-year goals.
Some managers from large agencies – such as the Department of Public Safety and the Commerce Department – commented that they had worked for the state for 29 and 30 years, but they had never sat in the same room with their department heads.
“We have to get people working together so we can avoid duplication and improve efficiency,” he said.
Stitt, who founded Gateway Mortgage, noted that he traveled a lot with the company because it has offices in 40 states.
“I would see the momentum and pride in other states,” he said.
“I would come back to Oklahoma, and I felt we sort of had a second-class mentality. We weren’t performing up to the level that I knew we could.”
Oklahoma can do much better, he asserted.
“I think we can be Top 10 in every single category we set our mind to,” he said.
He touted the state’s assets.
“Our biggest resource is our hard-working, God-fearing people,” he said.
The governor traveled to Paris last week on an economic development trip, and he met with executives who have operations in various states.
“They told me that their most efficient and productive plants were in Oklahoma,” he said.
The state has the best location in the nation for manufacturing and distribution, he said.
“We are dead center in the middle of the country,” he said. “It’s the right place to be.”
Stitt said his biggest accomplishment in his first legislative session was getting teachers and state employees raises for the second year in the row.
With the raises, Oklahoma is now No. 1 in average teacher pay among the six states in the region – although Texas is planning raises that will restore it to first place, Stitt said.
“It’s a very simple business practice,” he said. “We have to pay market rate.”