Path Home Shows 2008 Show Archive December 2008 Show 0849 Ponca City Development Authority

Ponca City Development Authority

While many cities across the nation are struggling to put their citizens to work, one Oklahoma community is finding it can't fill jobs fast enough.
Ponca City Development Authority

Ponca City

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Ponca City Development Authority

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Show 0849: Ponca City Development Authority

Air date: December 7, 2009



Rob:  While many cities across the nation are struggling to put their citizens to work, one northern Oklahoma community is finding it can’t fill jobs fast enough.  Ponca City, Oklahoma, is currently experiencing its lowest unemployment rate in nearly a decade.  And while that may sound like a blessing, new companies in the area are struggling to find enough workers to meet their demands.  Our Russ Jowell shows us how Ponca City is using a unique combination of workforce development and community initiatives to ensure that this small town has a big future.

Russ:  It’s a skyline unlike any other in Oklahoma; one that signifies the rich heritage of a northern Oklahoma community finding itself in the midst of refining its own workforce to meet the demands of a new century, and a new economy.

It’ll be flush on top of that.

Russ:  Ever since its founding, Ponca City has been a shining star in the Oklahoma sky, having played host to the Marland Oil Company and its eventual successor, Conoco Philips. But recent shifts in the economy, coupled with a petroleum industry in flux, have led the city on a quest to diversify its economic landscape, a quest led by this man.

David Myers:  Economic development used to be thought of as industrial recruitment.  In fact, we used to call it that, but economic development right now is much more about how do you manage, wholistically, your local economy?

Russ:  David Myers is executive director of the Ponca City Development Authority, and says that when faced with the challenge of diversifying Ponca City’s economy, he looked to gardening for inspiration.

Myers:  We can attract, and build, and grow that company of 50 people.  And in fact, we like to pursue what’s called the economic gardening impact of economic development, where we’re really growing a business, not attracting them in.

Russ:  And here in Oklahoma, we know a thing or two about growing things, whether it be hard red winter wheat, or a local business or industry, and Ponca City is no exception.

Myers:  If in Ponca City I were to try to attract a company out of Stillwater, Oklahoma, for example which is 45 miles to the south, and they were to do the same thing, we might spend a lot of money and not add any new jobs to our state nor to our region.  But if I can help that local guy through skills training, through a number of other things that we can do here in Ponca City, if I can help him grow and add 20 jobs, that’s 20 jobs that’s added to our state economy without hardly any charge, or any cost, at all.

Russ:  Growth has been so good in fact, that the city has almost outstripped its once abundant supply of good jobs.

Dennis Ruttman:  At one point we were at about 7.5% unemployment when I got here. We’re at less than 1% today, which that’s a good and bad problem.  The good problem is everybody’s working.  The bad problem is, you don’t have anybody to put into a new job.

Russ:  Dennis Ruttman is director of business and industry services at Pioneer Technology Center, and says that Ponca’s low unemployment has led him to seek new markets in which to find new workers.

Ruttman:  And that new market is either going to be your in-school students, alternative kids like we talked about; folks that have completed high school but didn’t want to go to college; folks that went to college and decided not to finish that degree.

Russ:  And attracting those groups back to the workforce seemed to be an impossible task, had it not been for a once abandoned trailer.

Ruttman:  When we started projects such as METS, and you’ve seen the METS mobile lab.  Well, METS actually started out as an intern mentorship program, and that’s still what it truly is, that helped engage industry into the process of building that next generation of employees.

Russ:  How important is that hands-on experience in getting students interested?

Myers:  I think it’s absolutely critical to get with them, not just in terms of some book or whatnot, but to actually be with them, let them see.  I’m not an educator, I’m not a child development specialist, but I am a dad, and I know that when you are with kids and they can touch and feel and see, they have a tendency maybe to learn better, certainly to be far more interested to understand the relevance to their lives.

There are all types of materials.  You can cut material that’s over an inch thick.

Russ:  The very same question that motivated METS founder, Laurence Beliel.

Beliel:  Well, about two years ago, my son Kyle was in the third grade.  And he came home one night and said Dad will you help me with my homework?  And I thought how hard can third grade math be?  So we sat down, we did his homework, and after we did his homework, Kyle asked me a question that all of us have asked before; and question that is why do I need to know this stuff?

Myers:  All of us can remember taking math programs in school and wondering what this had to do with anything and why should I solve for X.  These kids are seeing why they should solve for X.  So that’s really important to us.

Russ:  And the fruits of this economic gardening can be seen at businesses all across the city.  Here at Bliss Industries, they’re in the business of making hammermills which are essentially large machines for tearing things up.  But while they are in the business of destruction, the city they call home is helping them to build a brighter future.

Pete Davies:  We entirely are supported by the community, not only by the Ponca City Development Authority.  But we work closely with the town, the Pioneer Technology Center here.

Russ:  Pete Davies is the chief operating officer of Bliss Industries, and says having resources like the Development Authority and Pioneer Tech within close proximity of his business is an invaluable asset.

Davies:  The city has been extremely supportive of this facility.  We’re standing inside a building that was helped to be financed through the city and the state.  The Pioneer Technology Center has been instrumental in several ways for us.  One, they have several training classes that pertain to the types of employees that we hire.  They have a welding school, and they have a machine shop.

Myers:  By enabling our workforce to be ready for the new economy that is not only here today but will be here tomorrow. We have created a workforce that is very attractive to a knowledge-based economy, and have in fact have insured that our companies will get people who are ready to change with them as they adapt for the global market place.

Russ:  Ensuring the city’s future stays bright for generations to come.