Alva Review-Courier -

'It all starts with a trip'

• Lt. Gov. Pinnell speaks in Alva


Marione Martin

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell speaks to a joint Rotary-Kiwanis meeting Thursday in Alva. He discussed tourism and economic development.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell spoke to a joint meeting of the Rotary and Kiwanis club members and guests Thursday noon in Alva. Opening the meeting, Rotary President John Ryerson noted that both clubs are celebrating their 100th year in Alva this year.

NWOSU President Dr. Bo Hannaford introduced Pinnell. "I was very fortunate about three years ago. When I was in Leadership Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to meet the lieutenant governor." Hannaford described Pinnell: "He is for Oklahoma. He is for northwest Oklahoma. He is a fan. He is a friend of ours."

"Please eat. I love a good Rotary-Kiwanis meeting in a Mexican restaurant," said Pinnell. "This is good food. You give me chips and salsa, man, that's my love language. So I'm happy today."

In addition to his role as President of the Oklahoma State Senate, Pinnell was selected by Gov. Kevin Stitt to be the first Oklahoma Secretary of Tourism and Branding, overseeing the Department of Tourism and Recreation. He is also a member of the board of the Department of Commerce. He spoke about the relationship between both agencies in promoting Oklahoma.


Pinnell toured Northwest Technology Center in Alva before the meeting. Nodding toward Hannaford he said, "Certainly you have an economic engine with the university here. Our regional universities, that's what they are, particularly to rural Oklahoma. They are economic engines for the state of Oklahoma, and I recognize that.

"When you have a Career Tech like we have that is so blessed to have a local funding formula that they have that's unique, frankly, to Oklahoma, all this infrastructure across the state. You couple that again with this great university we have, with a K-12 system, when we support it and should be supporting it, we're onto something.

"It starts with education. Our future work force is sitting in the classrooms in middle schools, high schools and our college right here in Alva. We have to recognize that, make sure it's supported, that it's funded the way that it needs to be funded."

Growing Population and Economy

Pinnell spoke about the importance of keeping our young people in Oklahoma and encouraging others to move here. Discussing the 2020 Census, he said, "It gives us a road map. It tells us where we are as a state, because we count everybody in every single state every ten years."

He said the census showed Oklahoma had about 3.9 million people. "Since then we've announced that we're over 4 million because a lot of people moved to Oklahoma during the pandemic. You may have seen some of that here in your own backyard." He said many states shutdown and "people were sick and tired of being sick and tired, and they said enough is enough. I'm moving to an open state and a more friendly state, and a lot of people showed up in Oklahoma."

Although Oklahoma City is now the 20th largest city in the U.S. and Tulsa grew some, Pinnell said Oklahoma lost population in two-thirds of the other counties. "We lost about 75,000 people in rural Oklahoma over the last ten years. So we grew a lot in two or three counties, and we didn't grow a whole lot in the 65 to 70 other counties," he said." We need to be honest with ourselves about that. We need to be down at 23rd and Lincoln in Oklahoma City with our state reps and senators having conversations about those numbers."

He said that trend is not unique to Oklahoma. Kids and working adults are leaving rural communities and going into urban areas. But there are things to be addressed to make sure that trend stops. He emphasized the importance of "everything from access to rural health care to a good education system to a Department of Commerce that is pushing business to rural parts of our state."

"It's why we host our annual turkey hunt right here in Alva. If you haven't been, you're invited. Everybody's invited. And we're going to have turkeys this year. I know you guys have had a little bit of a drought. We're going to have turkeys. I'll bring them on a leash if I have to," he said.

From the audience, Bill Buckles offered, "There're plenty in the capitol." After laughter subsided, Pinnell said, "I'll start using that. There are plenty.

"Why do we do a turkey hunt? Because there's a bunch of CEOs around this country, they've never gotten a turkey and they've never been to Oklahoma.

"If I can combine those two things to get people to come to Oklahoma for a couple of days to see truly America, because this is America, this is still America. We do America right in Oklahoma. But if it takes a turkey hunt to get a few CEO's to show up in Alva, Oklahoma, to say, 'Hey, you know what? I'm sick and tired of Kansas City. I'm tired of St. Louis. I'm tired of Dallas (which I will speak to in a second here). Alva looks pretty good to me.'

"It all starts with a trip. That could be softball tournament. It could be a turkey hunt. I don't care what it takes to get people to Alva, America. But I've got to get them here first ... to see the university system, our Career Tech. Again, the workforce we have. We actually have skilled labor. But until we get people here, a lot of people in other states are going to have negative perceptions of what they think we are. And it's why we talk about tourism so much."

Looking to Texas

"There was a story in the New York Times. I rarely read the New York Times, but I read this article today. I think the headline was: Oklahoma wants to be like Texas. Imagine that. And the whole article was about Texas getting too full. So listen to these numbers. Dallas today, there's 8 million people in the city of Dallas today. So that means there's twice as many people in Dallas as the entire state of Oklahoma. Within the next ten years, Dallas will be the third largest city in America. They will surpass Chicago as the third largest city in America in less than ten years. There will be 10 million people in Dallas. They're full.

"But all my buddies that I went to college with, they got in-demand degrees and they went down to Dallas and Houston to get jobs. Some in this room may have similar stories.

"They're going down to these cities to get jobs. My friends loved it for about three years. They hate Dallas today. They've got young families. They're trying to get their kid into a kindergarten class with a yearlong waiting list. It takes them an hour and a half to get to work, an hour and a half to get back from work. What they're paying for a house is ridiculous. It's changing is what I'm getting at. The quality of life in the Dallas metro-plex is not what it was 20 years ago. And the quality of life in Oklahoma is not what it was 20 years ago. It's better here, and it's worse there."

Pinnell spoke of his push to encourage Texans to look at Oklahoma, "I've told our Department of Commerce we're not in Texas enough. Why would we not be, because they're wanting out. And north Texas is just growing into Oklahoma.

"Put the Dallas metro-plex aside. Sherman, Texas, have you been there recently? It's a major metro. North Texas is growing, and it's naturally going to grow into Ardmore and Durant. I'm hoping for doubling the population of those two towns in future decades. So we have to look around at what's going on in the country, but particularly one of the largest economies that's just a couple of hours from here."


"The reason I talk about tourism, the reason I told the governor four years ago when I got elected that I wanted to be his Secretary of Tourism is because our tourism industry in Oklahoma is very unique, very authentic. So we don't have to create something that doesn't already exist," said Pinnell. "From our Native American history, Route 66, the Chisholm Trail, small town charm, our agri-tourism industry that is exploding in all the right ways. Agri-tourism is the fastest (growing) segment of the tourism industry as a whole, not just in Oklahoma but this country. You've got amazing opportunities here in northwest Oklahoma when it comes to agri-tourism. Anything you can do on a farming or ranching operation, I'm not just talking about farmers markets here although those are exploding in popularity as well across the 77 counties.

"But as I said before, it starts with a trip. If we can get somebody here to Alva to visit your museum, visit an agri-tourism opportunity, visit your main street, I don't care what it is. If I can get them here, we can sell them. Tourism is the front door to economic development.

"We generated over $2.10 billion last year in direct visitor spending in the state of Oklahoma – state record, all time high. So we know we're onto something. Some of that is due to Covid. Full disclosure, when other states were shut down, we had a lot more people show up in Oklahoma. We had over 3 million more visit our state parks during Covid than the year before because we didn't shut down our parks. I wasn't going to tell a mom or dad with their kids at home that they couldn't go walk in the woods. We fixed all the restrooms in those state parks so you're welcome if you visit any of our state parks, and millions more people are. I think clean, safe restrooms matter. They matter to a lot of people, so we put 150 new restrooms in our state parks. Good luck finding an RV camping spot.

"We're focusing on our strengths. Outdoor recreation in Oklahoma is growing. I created the Oklahoma Fishing Trail three, three and a half, years ago. We have 200 manmade lakes. We have more manmade lakes than any other state in the country, and it's arguably the most diverse fishing state in the country. We have 175 different species of fish in Oklahoma. Why are we not just inviting people to Oklahoma to go fishing?

Photo provided

Northwest Technology Center played host to Oklahoma Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell on its Alva campus on Thursday, March 2. Pinnell was in Alva to speak at the Alva Rotary Club at noon and to interview Superintendent Daren Slater for the "A Look at Oklahoma CareerTech" video series. Pinnell participated in a tour of the Alva campus and took time for photos with staff and students. Pictured L to R-Angie Flynt, Kayla Turner, Jessica Kriegh, Melanie Blackwood, Lt Governor matt Pinnell, Northeset Technology Superintendent Daren Slater, Sharon Corder, Eric Shiek.

"That's kind of easy, and it doesn't cost a whole lot of taxpayer dollars to do it. For every dollar I'm spending inviting people to come to Oklahoma to go fishing, I get $67 back. Right now we have a 67 to one ROI (return on investment) just announcing to people that Oklahoma is open for you to come and go fishing."

Pinnell spoke about state parks in the area, each with unique features. He noted that Little Sahara State Park is the only state park that makes money. Alabaster State Park is the only gypsum show cave in the country although parts of it need to be excavated to be fully open again. More concessionaires are needed at Great Salt Plains State Park. He also said Texas has 18 state parks while Oklahoma has 35. Regarding tourism, Pinnell added, "Make sure you dedicate some money to market Alva."

Pinnell answered some questions from the audience which led to comments about encouraging the film industry in Alva. He also spoke about funds for helping industrial parks to be "shovel-ready" and his position on the council pushing broadband. He said the goal is to work with providers in Oklahoma to give 95 percent of the state affordable broadband within the next four years.

A video of Pinnell's entire speech may be viewed at


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