Executive Director of Oklahoma’s Department of Commerce, Brent Kisling has dedicated his professional life to the state’s economic development. Before he came to Commerce in 2019, Kisling led the Enid Regional Development Alliance for nearly a decade. An Oklahoma native, he graduated from OSU with a bachelor’s in Agribusiness. We caught up with Kisling and got his thoughts on … 

… what has kept him in-state.
I started my career right out of high school working for Senator Jim Inhofe. Traveling around the state with him gave me an early perspective of how our state operates and what makes us unique. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see the world, and I truly believe Oklahoma is the best place on the planet to live and raise a family. We are spoiled here, and we don’t even know it. Our people are friendly, hardworking and united in mission more than any other place I have been. I have never once had a desire to leave.

…projects he’s most proud of.
I am most proud of the way our Commerce team responded during the pandemic. Although I believe that the Oklahoma Department of Commerce does not create jobs, we certainly have the mission of creating an environment where Oklahoma businesses feel comfortable putting capital at risk and keeping our citizens employed. 

That environment was tested in 2020 – and all of the months since – as we responded to health concerns, business closures and inflation pressure, and we pivoted out of the downturn. I am proud of the supply chain platform, Connex Oklahoma, that was stood up before any other state as a response to purchasing concerns for manufacturers, and I am proud of the Oklahoma Innovation Expansion Program, which is the premier legacy business assistance program in the nation. OIEP provides up to $150,000 awards to Oklahoma businesses that are making innovative investments and diversifying their revenue streams. We assist over 120 manufacturers a year through this program. The efforts we put forth during the pandemic have allowed Oklahoma to now be the tenth fastest growing state in terms of population in the nation. We have bundled up this thing called freedom and have been selling it to the world … and the world is buying it!

… the origins of his passion for economic development.
My wife Jennifer and I owned a very large bed and breakfast in Enid that we sold a few years ago. At one point, we were trying to grow and expand, and had to attend a city council meeting to get our re-zoning approved. Over 50 people signed up to oppose our application, and it completely caught my wife and I off guard. No one spoke up on our behalf, or on behalf of the growth of our small business. We just assumed everyone would be excited that we were taking an old abandoned house and investing thousands of dollars to return it to functionality. We were wrong, and we lost our vote with the council. From that day forward, I vowed that every chance I had to publicly thank people who were investing in our community and hiring our neighbors, I would do it. That passion turned into a strong desire to use my personal experiences to help others grow.

… his day-to-day.
At Commerce we do five things. We help recruit businesses to the state. We work with existing businesses to help them grow. We do research to support our economic efforts throughout all of state government. We do community development to help local entities prepare for growth. And we provide workforce development services for businesses looking to hire and citizens looking for work. 

As I work in each of these areas every day, it’s like solving puzzles. Every project we work on has some issue that must be solved, and I absolutely love trying to solve these puzzles. Sometimes the need is for land. Sometimes it involves closing a capital needs gap. And sometimes the puzzle includes a need for people. Every project has a definite beginning and a definite ending with success or failure. I love working in that kind of environment. 

… what he’s looking forward to and planning in 2023.
On the personal level, our daughter, Bree, will be graduating with an Agriculture Communications degree from Oklahoma State University in May and we are excited to see where (in Oklahoma) she lands after she completes her schooling. Our son, Layne, is an agriculture engineer with USDA and works in Woodward; he is also engaged, so we look forwarding to adding Ashley to our family during this next year.

On the professional front, I have two major goals that I look forward to seeing happen in 2023: This past summer, the legislature and the Governor appropriated almost $1 billion toward infrastructure investments so that our communities will be prepared for the growth that is coming. Commerce is helping to coordinate the efforts to invest these dollars in the places that will make the biggest impact for generations to come. Not many people are talking about this investment, but it might be the biggest thing our state government has done in decades. 

The other goal I’m looking to achieve in 2023 is a continued focus on growing our rural areas. I am proud of the fact that this past year, 52% of our Commerce project wins were in rural parts of the state as compared to the 10-year average of 42%.

… the state’s future.
When it comes to economic prosperity, the best benchmark for proof that you are doing things right is to look at population trends. In the third quarter of 2022, Oklahoma had the third fastest growing economy in the nation, but I am most proud of the fact that we are the tenth fastest growing population state. People vote for prosperity with their feet, and Oklahoma is capturing a lot of those votes right now. If I had one goal for our state in the next decade, it would be that we continue this upward momentum and in 2030, we earn our sixth Congressional seat back.

Photo courtesy the Oklahoma Department of Commerce

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