MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Columns

March 20, 2010

New approach needed to break poverty chain

Northeastern Oklahoma is an area rich in natural beauty and recreational opportunities; however the people of the 2nd Congressional district are some of the poorest in the country with approximately 21 percent of our residents living below the poverty threshold. We must examine alternate approaches to break this chain of poverty and claim the prosperity that is due to our people.

Whether it’s main street or county dirt road, the issues are the same throughout northeast Oklahoma. We must retain our skilled workforce and improve the employability of our workforce. The world is ever changing and our workforce must change with it; job seekers today must be able to adapt and should realize education is now life-long learning. We must continue our efforts to support local entrepreneurs, as well as attract new business and retail. To grow, cities must support new business development and business expansion. Chambers of Commerce throughout northeast Oklahoma know this lesson and focus a tremendous amount of energy in this endeavor. We must work to improve the educational opportunities and recognize educating our young people starts at birth with the family. Oklahoma has one of the best head start programs in the country but we must continue to strive for educational excellence throughout all phases of education.

Regional efforts are well underway to expand upon and enhance these three fronts and we’re not looking to Washington or Oklahoma City for a quick fix; we are reaching across borders and city limits, looking to our educational centers, and tapping into the creativity of our own people to develop long range plans ourselves.

These regional efforts began last fall in Tahlequah when Northeastern State University, Cherokee Nation, and SACC-EZ (regional development cooperative) hosted a regional summit, partnering with cities, counties, chambers, and community leaders to develop the process of regionalism in northeastern Oklahoma. More than 300 community leaders from more than seven counties gathered to discuss regional collaboration and planning. Since the summit, collaborative efforts have resulted in a regional “Work Ready” Certification application, which includes 14 rural counties in northeastern Oklahoma. This certification will provide regional employers, as well as prospective employers, with confirmation that this region has a workforce that is educated, skilled, and ready. Although the Work Ready Certification process is the largest collaborative effort, numerous other efforts to listen, collaborate, and share are taking place.

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