Jordan Green says if Oklahoma wants young blood, the state "needs change"

by Jordan Green

I love the state of Oklahoma. I was born and raised here. My family is here. My friends are here. The people here are the best in the world; I genuinely believe this. Everything I’ve ever known has been found on the rolling hills and plains of the place we call the “Sooner State.”

That’s why I’m here to say something that probably won’t be popular with very many people: The state of Oklahoma needs change. But I don’t think we are enacting it in the right way.

In recent weeks, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell has announced a plan that he hopes will “rebrand” the state of Oklahoma.

“Project Blue Sky,” according to his official website, aims to “tell the story of Oklahoma in an entirely new way.” By rebranding the state, Pinnell hopes to attract more “tourists, talent, business, and investors,” his website said.

So, what does that actually mean?

According to the outline for the project, the state’s official websites will be updated and – one could only hope – become more user-friendly. New, more modern “Welcome to Oklahoma” signs will be posted near highways where travelers enter the state. The backs of our cars and trucks will look a little bit different, too: As part of the project, the state will put out new license plates, replacing the much-derided scissortail-flycatcher design implemented by former Governor Mary Fallin.

In essence, Pinnell is looking at a major overhaul of the material things associated with Oklahoma.

But if I’m looking for a state to call home, is a license plate really going to lure me in?

Look, I’m a millennial. Obviously, we’re the people born around the time of the millennium. We’re also the group of people that advertisers and companies pander to the most. Like the Baby Boomers, we are going to be a huge generation – one unlike any before.

To keep our attention – and to make us buy their products – businesses have to find creative ways to appeal to us. The best way for someone to earn our business isn’t though catchy TV jingles or colorful billboard advertisements: It’s through offering us something that we can use – and something that no one else can provide. Pinnell, like any other businessman, is seeking to get people to “buy” his product – in this case, moving to Oklahoma. One could only assume that young people with long lives ahead of them are the “target” audience of this campaign.

That’s where we’re struggling.

A June report by the Oklahoma Economist shows that 5,300 college graduates left the state after earning their degree in 2017, according to an article in The Tulsa World. Young people are pouring out of the state in droves in search of a better life elsewhere.

I’m about to be in college myself, and I know why young people are leaving our state.

When you hear about Oklahoma, what comes to mind? Here’s a short list: Failing school systems. Dilapidated infrastructure. Low life expectancy. Poor healthcare. Some of the nation’s highest incarceration rates.

As far as building a better “image” for the state, those factors don’t leave much room to work with.

Oklahoma could have the best “brand” of any state in the union, but if we have the worst product of them all, what good will the brand do? Will better license plates do any good when they fall off of our cars after hitting a pothole? Will “Welcome” signs bring people into Oklahoma when our children can’t read? Will nice websites attract new residents when they can expect to receive poor healthcare here?

I highly doubt it.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have the utmost respect for our lieutenant governor. He is a good man, and I personally believe he is doing more to advocate for our state as a whole than any of his predecessors in recent history. He is a “reform” candidate, and I think the fact that he is trying to move Oklahoma forward is highly commendable.

I’m not at all critical of his plan or his performance in office thus far. But the implementation of this plan at the present time is like getting the cart before the horse.

Before we try to make Oklahoma look better, let’s try to actually MAKE it better. We do that that by working together – as Oklahomans – to bring change to the State Capitol. We need to force our lawmakers to reform our justice system, spend more money on roadways, allocate additional funding for healthcare, and give our educators a competitive wage. If we have a good product – in this case, a good state – having a good brand will benefit us.

How we get that product to be better, however, is still up for debate. Lawmakers could always vote to raise taxes. They could also vote to cut funding to other areas of government, though this method is only a short-term solution. I won't pretend to have all of the answers on that topic. But I do know this: Something has to change.

Until our state can offer something other than long prison sentences and poor education, having a good brand isn’t going to help much. Yes, rebranding Oklahoma is imperative to our future. But right now, getting a new brand is just putting “lipstick on a pig.”