Study looked at issue of Oklahomans returning to work
Last week, our Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee held four interim studies looking at various issues facing our state’s business community.
The first looked at what is preventing Oklahomans from returning to the workforce. This has been a question on so many minds, as everywhere we look there are “Help Wanted” signs, especially in the hospitality and restaurant industries. Where did all the workers go?
We heard from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Agency, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, and the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce. Problems discussed included lack of child care or affordable child care, low wages and COVID-19 anxiety in the workforce.
More than half of Oklahomans live in a child care desert, meaning there are no child care facilities in close proximity to families. Some examples included: Cimarron County has no centers; Beaver County has only three; and Texas County has 20. Besides dealing with COVID quarantines and closures, child care centers also struggle to find employees due to low pay and rigorous testing and licensing requirements.
Finding nontraditional child care that’s open early in the morning and late in the evenings is another problem for working parents. Small businesses are also struggling to compete with large corporations that are offering $15-$18 an hour starting pay, health benefits and telework options, drastically shrinking their pool of applicants. The work force is changing, and local and state officials are going to have to make some policy changes as well to better support small businesses and working families alike.
I chaired the next study, which examined equitable procurement for minority and women-owned businesses. We heard from small business owners, community development leaders and government officials. One recommendation to help more minority businesses compete for government contracts was to break down the projects into smaller sections.
Most of these contracts are massive and can only be won by large corporations, but breaking the contracts down into manageable projects would help small businesses be able to better compete. Another proposal was to update the statute to allow counties to start minority and women-owned business programs.
Our committee also looked at the economic benefits of cultural tourism, like the National Civil Rights Trail. Presentations were made by the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Department of Tourism. We also learned about the economic impact experienced by other states on the trail, and about the current tourism attractions from some of Oklahoma’s 13 original Black towns.
Finally, we studied how our state can enhance opportunities and the quality of life for Oklahomans with disabilities through transportation and workforce development. I also chaired this study, where we heard about the problems facing these citizens as well as solutions from Oklahoma ADAPT, the Department of Rehabilitative Services, the Oklahoma Transit Association, and the Grand Gateway Economic Development Association. We also learned about funding opportunities from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.
If you’re interested in any of these issues, you can find the meeting presentations on the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov.
In closing, I want to once again congratulate Hannah Cross of Newkirk for winning the State Main Street Hero of the Year Award. This amazing 15-year-old led a drive to build the Walk of Warriors at the Kay County Courthouse to honor America’s veterans. The pavers have been installed and the dedication took place last Sunday. It’s great to see Oklahoma youth leading the charge. District 10 was well represented at the awards ceremony, and I want to also congratulate all those who were nominated for this prestigious award and for your dedication to Main Street Oklahoma.
You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.