Oklahoma’s Future

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Leadership Circles room
M. Paden ExLC
R. Elliott ExLC
Tom McDaniel

By Garland McWatters

What will it take to keep Oklahoma’s young talent in the state and make Oklahoma the state of choice for future generations?

Maybe we should ask them.

Millennials, age 19-35, are fully present in the Oklahoma workforce, making up 32.9 percent of working age Oklahomans. They are here, now, and they want policy makers to hear what they have to say.

NextGen Leadership Oklahoma (NGLO) is on a quest to tap into the minds of Oklahoma Millennials and to give rise to their collective voice, according to Don Swift, NGLO founder and publisher of iON Oklahoma Magazine.

NextGen Leadership Oklahoma offered a leadership retreat to the alumni of its NextGen 30 Under 30 recognition program and other young leaders across Oklahoma. The purpose of the Dream It, Dare It, Do It retreat was to start a conversation among young leaders about what living in Oklahoma would have to be like for them to stay.

Thirty individuals answered the call. They assembled July 29-30 at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center near Sulphur, where they shared their big ideas about what Oklahoma policy makers should be focusing on to create a NextGen Oklahoma.

The results of that retreat are available in a recently published document, A Millennial Vision for a Transformational Oklahoma. Download a copy here.
Here are some highlights.

What matters to Millennials?
Change, to Millennials, means transformation. Oklahoma is evolving, and we need to assure that the evolution is also purposeful.

One group summarized their deliberations saying, “When we think of Oklahoma, we think of change. Everyone wants to have a pendulum swing, but what we really need more of is balance: how we can take the established generation and the up and coming generation and bring them together.”

Another group commented, ”We need to unify as a state to make an effort to be progressive and inclusive, which would change the current perception of Oklahoma.”

Their transformation reinvents some of Oklahoma’s institutions, such as education and government, to create a new culture of learning and collaboration. This transformation will push us to rethink some of the paths we are now on and be willing to take the road less traveled.

How others perceive Oklahoma
Millennials want to live in an Oklahoma respected by others. As one group expressed it, “We envision a diverse and inclusive state that respects all individuals and viewpoints. We also want to create a positive image for Oklahoma by fostering an active and educated citizenry that is engaged in making decisions for our future.”
Oklahoma must be seen as a unified whole, not a patchwork of special interests jockeying for privilege.

Priority issues
Retreat participants listed seven priority areas.
• Education
• Economic opportunity
• Urban-rural integration
• Energy and environment
• Health and wellness
• Entertainment, the Arts, and tourism
• Political reform

Education
Educational reform is their number one concern. They are both products of the system and future consumers of it as they start their families.

The issue is not simply funding, but a possible redesign of the entire educational system. The want higher pay for teachers and a system that is more responsive to the individual learning of students, a curricula that is both more practical and more well rounded to include the arts and physical fitness.

Furthermore, they want the state legislature to be more supportive of educational innovation.

Economic opportunity
Economic development is a Main Street issue for every community. Participants saw the value of companies moving to Oklahoma and encouraging home-grown firms and business start-ups. Two such companies were represented at the retreat: WeGoLook.com in Oklahoma city, co-founded by Robin Smith, and NextThought of Norman, founded by Ken Parker.

Urban-rural integration
Millennials want the best of both the urban and rural experiences.

In the cities, they want safe pedestrian access to work, shopping, and entertainment. They also want plenty of green space for parks and exercise.

In the rural communities, they want quality health care, access to high speed Internet, and quick access to other communities and urban centers.

They see an Oklahoma with high-speed rail and other forms of mass transit that interconnects the state.

Energy-Environment
Millennials see their Oklahoma as pristine: land, air, and water that is pure and life giving. They value the oil and gas industry while supporting the development of all forms of environmentally friendly energy resources.
They see Oklahoma as a global example of environmentally friendly practices. Urban landscapes, rural land use, and universal recycling will reflect Oklahoma’s commitment to protecting the environment while using its natural resources wisely.

Health and wellness
Millennials consider health and wellness as a major factor in the overall quality of life for Oklahoma. They want to see more community-wide wellness experiences that will improve the overall fitness and health of Oklahomans, who rank 45th in general health in the U.S., according to the United Health Foundation.

They encourage more organic farming and more farmers markets, stressing physical fitness, as well as continuing to improve senior care, and supporting Oklahoma as a center for biomedical research.

Entertainment, the arts, and tourism
In short, Millennials would like to see more in all these areas, as they are a vital part of a vibrant community. They would like to see Oklahoma as a destination state for all types of recreation and entertainment. They asked what if Oklahoma offered an event similar to Austin’s South by Southwest festival to showcase Oklahoma’s role in film, music, and the performing arts.

Political reform
Generally, participants wanted to see Oklahoma’s political leaders be more solution oriented and work together regardless of party affiliation. They long for a state where public interest is more important than special interest or self-interest.

Conclusion
Millennials attending the retreat want to see an Oklahoma that raises the bar across the board on the quality of life throughout the state. They are not willing to wait and see what happens. They expect to offer their ideas, to be heard, and to be taken seriously. They want to help create the NextGen Oklahoma that they will soon inherit from the current generation of leaders.

Participation by business leaders
Eight business leaders attended the retreat to share their experiences in leading transformational opportunities in the state.

• Jennifer Anderson, Vice president of Marketing and Communication, Express Employment Professionals,
• Robyn Elliott, Secretary of Communications and Community Development, Chickasaw Nation,
• Risha Grant, an inclusion advocate and small business owner of DiversityConnex.com,
• Mike Knopp, Executive Director, Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation,
• Tom McDaniel, President American Fidelity Foundation and chair of the OKC MAPS-3 citizen advisory board,
• Marion Paden, CEO, Leadership Oklahoma,
• Ken Parker, CEO NextThought
• Robin Smith, CEO and co-founder, WeGoLook.com

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