Community leaders attend 11th annual NORA Regional Summit at NSU

Senior Reporter
10/30/2019 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Stephen Highers, entrepreneur development manager for the Cherokee Nation’s Small Business Assistance Center, officiates as three teams present ideas to address issues in northeastern Oklahoma during the “Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance Shark Tank.” D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Todd Enlow, Cherokee Nation chief of staff, gives a welcome address during the Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance Regional Summit breakfast. The summit is held annually to discuss economic development, health care and quality of life across the region. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Welcoming hundreds of community leaders and civic organizers, the 11th annual Regional Summit on the campus of Northeastern State University focused on local economic growth in its presentations and workshops on Oct 22.

Since 2010, the Northeast Oklahoma Regional Alliance has held its Regional Summit at NSU to discuss economic development, health care and quality of life across 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma. The counties of focus are nearly identical to the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction, and the CN is consistently a primary sponsor, along with Cherokee Nation Businesses. The 2019 theme was “Connect! Collaborate! Grow!”

Introductory speakers were Steve Turner, NSU president; Todd Enlow, CN chief of staff; and Johnnie Earp, NORA board president.

Enlow, who has been in management with the CN for 21 years in education, government relations, management resources and as the information technology director, recalled sitting among the organizers of the first Regional Summit – including Anna Knight of the CN and Dr. Ron Cambiano of NSU – to discuss what it should try to accomplish.

“The Cherokee Nation is the economic driver for most of the northeastern region,” Enlow said. “Our impact last year was a little more than $2 billion. We employ more than 11,000, and indirectly, another 8,000 more employees. The government this year posted its largest budget ever of about $1.2 billion.”

Enlow also pointed to initiatives announced by Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., and the Nation’s efforts to improve access to education.

“We provide scholarships to more than 5,000 students,” Enlow said. “We have never really turned anybody down as long as they turn in their information, and they met the basic requirements. This year, the chief announced an additional investment of $1 million for career-tech training with the Career Readiness Act of 2019. We continue to make those investments.”

Those in attendance also heard the keynote speech from Courtney Dunbar, of Burns and McDonnell, on rural development strategies, and the opening keynote was delivered by Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma secretary of commerce.

“I know there is a perception that all the new companies and all the new jobs go to Oklahoma City or Tulsa,” Kouplen said. “I assure you that is not the case. The biggest announcements we’ve had have been rural. There are a variety of reasons for that – low costs for land, utilities, labor. There are a lot reasons a company might decide to go rural. It depends on that company’s requirements and what they are trying to achieve. At the Department of Commerce, we tend to focus outside of Oklahoma City and Tulsa because they already have all the resources – people, doctors, staff – and we know that many smaller communities do not.”

During the workshops, Stephen Highers, entrepreneur development manager for the CN’s Small Business Assistance Center, acted as referee as three teams presented ideas for the “NORA Shark Tank.” Presentations included the creation of classes for middle school students to enhance basic financial literacy, suggested in part by Jill Taylor of the CN Commerce Department. The other two ideas were toy-powered cars for children about to enter surgery called “Power Wheels for Pediatrics,” and “Comfort Closets” to help children with food and clothing needs.

During lunch, it was announced that Comfort Closets would receive $1,000 to help start the program, but the other ideas also received $500 each. The midday keynote was delivered by Brent Comstock, founder and CEO of Bcom Solutions LLC, which he started in Auburn, Nebraska, at age 12.

Other workshops included attracting a workforce, improving public health, economic financing, tourism collaborations, grant writing, business retention, homelessness and connecting recreation to education.

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