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Northeastern Oklahoma Regional Alliance talks education and workforce at annual summit

Source: By CASEY SMITH World Business Writer

PRYOR — Education is vital to workforce development and workforce development is vital to economic development, said Don Raleigh, superintendent of Pryor Public Schools in his opening address at the NORA Education Summit.

Unfortunately, education in Oklahoma is at a crossroads, Raleigh said.

Oklahomans must decide whether to start being proactive about education and getting Oklahoma’s youth ready for their future places in the labor force or whether to continue to be primarily reactive, trying to fix problems in the education system as they occur.

Held at the MidAmerica Industrial Park, the goal of the Northeastern Oklahoma Regional Alliance summit was to discuss the importance of quality education and to reinforce the significance of public education in strengthening Oklahoma’s workforce.

NORA is a 14-county nonprofit organization committed to sustaining and improving the region.

“The workforce is what ties our region together,” said Darla Heller, executive director of NORA. “We have to address workforce development from a regional standpoint.”

Speakers at the summit included Chuck Hoskin Jr., secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation, as well as U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin.

Attendees of the summit also heard from David Stewart, CEO of MidAmerica Industrial Park. More than 80 companies that together employ 3,400 workers operate at the park, including Google and DuPont.

In 2013 the independent trust that runs the park launched the program MidAmerica Delivers, a public-private partnership to help connect local businesses with schools and industry to create a skilled local workforce.

The primary goals of the trust that runs MidAmerica are to help existing businesses at the park grow and thrive and to bring new businesses to the area, Stewart said.

When companies decide to move to or grow their presence in an area, workforce is a primary factor, he said.

Jonathan Catherman, a senior lead consultant with FranklinCovey Education, gave the event’s keynote speech on the subject of stewardship.

Stewardship is defined as the responsible management, supervision and protection of something entrusted to one’s care. Catherman said the foundation is vital for preparing children for their futures, the workforce and for the leadership roles many will choose to take on as adults.

“How do you get them to that level where they can achieve those aspirations?” Catherman said. “Go back to the basics.”

Fundamental character shaping needs to occur in the home and be supplemented by an education system that values academics, leadership and culture, he said.

The goal for the children currently under the stewardship of today’s adults and the education system as a whole is to set the youths up to have better lives than the older generation is currently living, not lives that are almost as good as the ones led by their parents, he said.

They need to learn to lead themselves so that they can choose to lead others.

“If we want them to have a better life, we have to be purposeful with that design,” Catherman said. “Or (their lives) will be almost as good as.”

Southern Business & Development Magazine selected MidAmerica as one of the Top 10 Sites in the South that Can Accommodate Any Project.

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