Todd Lamb’s plan to curb the “Brain Drain”

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Todd Lamb’s plan to curb the “Brain Drain”

By Tim Farley

Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb is continuing his personal crusade to defeat the state’s so-called “brain drain”, but he’s not fighting alone. Several key business and educational leaders have joined the fray to keep the best and brightest young people in Sooner land.

Lamb will host the third annual Young Professionals Conference Oct. 8 at the Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City. In addition, leaders from the fields of banking, online business, computer software, retail, food and restaurant and aeronautics will share their insights on the state’s growth and future.

“The whole idea is to keep the next generation home and here in Oklahoma,” the state’s second-in-command said during a recent interview. “The brain drain is hard to quantify, although we do know it’s not as bad as it used to be.”

In the past, Oklahoma’s college graduates would quickly pack their cars and head south to Texas or to the East or West coasts in pursuit of more prosperous economic conditions. Those same grads knew before they finished earning a degree that Oklahoma couldn’t provide them with the earning potential other states could.

“I go to every county every year and we would hear the same thing in every place. Young people were leaving in search of better jobs, higher pay and a better quality of life based on their perception of what others places are like,” Lamb said.

That’s why the Young Professionals Conference was started three years ago. It’s become a forum to tell young people about the positive steps government and business officials are taking to make the state a better place to live and work.

“We have to communicate to these young professionals what we’re doing when it comes to taxation, our exports and imports, educational reinvestment, oil and gas and the ever-growing aerospace industry in Oklahoma,” Lamb said.

Oklahoma leaders also want to put a dent in the number of college grads who head south to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio or any other major city in the Lone Star state.

“Our goal is to make I-35 North the best thing coming out of Texas,” Lamb said, half-jokingly. “We should expect to be better than Texas at something other than football. The Texas economy has been diversified longer and they’ve made stronger educational investments. We don’t want to be like Texas just for the sake of being like Texas. We have to decide what our twist is going to be on those same issues.”

Oklahoma has made some strides in expanding its statewide economy beyond agriculture and energy, but that effort still lacks when compared to other states such as Texas and Colorado. On the education front, Oklahoma has experienced a series of setbacks that include poor test scores in public schools, controversy at the state education department and the repeal of Common Core educational standards by the state legislature. In addition, the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin have continued to cut education funding for all public schools, including colleges and universities.

With all of those dark clouds looming over the state, Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s “Best Cities for New College Grads” list recently placed Tulsa at No. 13 and Oklahoma City at No. 14 in the nation for providing numerous entry-level career opportunities with good pay and a low cost of living.

Still, Lamb contends, the problem is keeping the majority of those young professionals in Oklahoma for their entire career.

Footsteps to follow

However, there are some examples of young business people who started a company, remained in Oklahoma and have had great success, Lamb said.

“Just look at Renzi Stone and Stan Clark. They are classic examples of staying in Oklahoma despite the rough times. They stuck with it and look at them today,” the lieutenant governor said.

Renzi Stone is chief executive officer of Saxum, a marketing and communications company founded in 2003 by the former University of Oklahoma basketball player at age 25. In the last 11 years, Saxum has become one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fast-growing privately owned businesses in the United States.

In a written statement from Saxum, Stone said, “I always knew I wanted to own my own business, but I didn’t necessarily know it would be in Oklahoma. Saxum was launched in 2003, and as it grew, I grew with it. I realized that I didn’t have to go to a city like San Francisco or New York City to be successful and to make a difference. We’re proud to be headquartered here, but we have clients all over the nation, with operations across the world. It just goes to show that you really aren’t limited by geographic borders; you’re only limited by borders you create in your mind. None of this growth is possible without a talented team, which is why we invest so heavily in millennials, who are the future leaders of my company and our state. ”

Saxum is a member of IPREX, a global network of communication agencies, with Stone serving as president of the firms in North and South America.

Meanwhile, Stan Clark’s story with Eskimo Joe’s is legendary. Also known as “Stillwater’s Jumpin’ Little Juke Joint,” Clark turned the single bar into an entrepreneurial empire with several businesses now listed under Stan Clark Companies. Eskimo Joe’s started when Clark and co-founder Steve File, who came up with the bar’s name, took a gamble by opening the first Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater on July 21, 1975. Clark, an Oklahoma State University graduate, later bought out File’s interest in the company and became sole owner.

Stan Clark Companies now includes Mexico Joe’s, Joseppi’s and Eskimo Joe’s Promotional Products Group. In 2005, Sports Illustrated’s on-line magazine, SI on Campus, named Eskimo Joe’s the third best collegiate sports bar in the U.S. Eskimo Joe’s notoriety also includes accolades from two U.S. presidents – George H.W. Bush and son George W. Bush. Both presidents, who gave commencement speeches at OSU, praised the restaurant’s cheese fries.

Conference panelists

The Young Professional Conference will feature panelists that address the duties of a CEO, the importance of small businesses and the growth of eateries.

The first panel, “CEOs, What do you do?” will include Michael Carnuccio of Liberty Foundation of America, Brenda Rolls of Frontier Electronics, Matt Beckham of QuiBids and Frazier Henke of American Bank and Trust Co.

A second panel discussion, “Small Business, Big Movement,” will involve Kevin Kern of KTAK Corporation/McDonalds, Burke and Jon Beck of Red Coyote Running, Matt Waits of SST Software and Mark Davis of TOC Solutions.

The third panel discussion will focus on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Panelists will be Keith Paul of A Good Egg Dining Group, John Gaberino of Hodges Bend and Amanda Simcoe of Tasting Oklahoma.

The 2 p.m. keynote speaker will be Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis.

Pre-registration is $20 and on-site registration is $25. The conference is from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the 50th floor of the Devon Tower.

For more information about the conference, call 405-272-4430 or visit

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