Governor Kevin Stitt issued a gubernatorial citation to the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team for its role in organizing the 2019 International Student Recognition Day at the state capitol.

The OKGIT partnered with Representative Mark McBride to bring more than 40 students from around the globe who attend Oklahoma higher education institutions to see the state government at work. In addition to remarks by Governor Stitt and Representative McBride, students had the opportunity to hear from Secretary of Native American Affairs Lisa Billy about the distinct role that the state’s 39 tribal nations play.

International Student Recognition Day is one of many cultural, educational and diplomatic events that the OKGIT organizes each  year to grow the state’s international ties. The group consists of professionals in the private, public and non-profit sector interested in developing a more international Oklahoma. For more information email info@okgit.com.

Representative Mark McBride talks with students at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Representative Mark McBride talks with students at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

What looked unlikely a few months ago came to fruition on April 3 as international students from universities across Oklahoma joined Governor Kevin Stitt, Secretary for Native American Affairs Lisa Billy and more than a dozen state legislators for International Student Recognition Day at the Capitol.

Former State Legislator Travis Dunlap was the point person in organizing the event at the capitol in prior years. With his departure coinciding with a changeover in OKGIT leadership at the start of 2019 made the task of organizing the event – taking place the same day as the Oklahoma World Trade Conference – seem unlikely.

Fortunately for the OKGIT, Representative Mark McBride heard about the event and stepped into the preparations. With OKGIT Chair Douglas Price of Tulsa Community College and OKGIT member Jared Scism of the University of Central Oklahoma, the 2019 event came together on a very tight timeline. More than 40 students from 37 countries who are currently enrolled at six Oklahoma higher learning institutions visited the statehouse and heard about the business of governing from speakers like Governor Stitt, Secretary Billy and Representative McBride.

The day offered an opportunity for all. Students hailing from governing systems across the political spectrum got to see the day-to-day legislative process of representative government while in session. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s elected leaders got to meet individuals who have left home to live and study in the Sooner State.

To learn more about the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team partnerships with international student and study abroad programs, please visit okgit.wpengine.com/education

Trade representatives from nine countries met with Oklahoma government and business leaders ahead of the 2019 World Trade Conference at the Oklahoma International Trade Representative Reception on April 2. The event, hosted and organized by the Oklahoma Governor International Team using funding from the Oklahoma Business Roundtable and CCK Strategies, brought more than 100 people to the Petroleum Club Oklahoma City to network and discuss opportunities to connect Oklahoma with international commerce and trade opportunities.

The nations attending included:

  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Belgium
  • South Korea
  • Guatemala
  • Taiwan
  • The United Kingdom
  • France

The OKGIT, OKBR and event sponsor CCK Strategies of Tulsa worked alongside the Governor’s Economic Development Marketing Team and staff from the U.S. Department of Commerce and Oklahoma Department of Commerce to make the event a success. It was a busy week for Oklahoma’s international ties, with the following day’s 2019 Oklahoma World Trade Conference taking place at MetroTech OKC concurrent with the International Student Recognition Day at the Oklahoma Capitol.

As we prepare for another year’s events, the OKGIT wanted to look back and share a great video from our friends at the Consular General of South Korea, based out of Houston, Texas.

Oklahoma has a new secretary of state after a short stint by Mike Hunter, who was recently appointed attorney general. Mike Lopez, a former interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools and former Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce was named by Governor Mary Fallin as the newest Secretary of State.

The governor issued a brief statement concerning the appointment, saying:

“Dave Lopez has been a successful businessman and tremendous civic leader with connections all around the nation,” said Fallin. “He brings a great deal of expertise and enthusiasm to the post and I’m delighted to have him back on my Cabinet. He will help in my efforts to implement pro-growth, fiscally responsible and conservative policies to move this state forward.”

Lopez began his duties in an official capacity on March 27 and will have to be confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.

Governor Governor Nigh

Governor Governor Nigh

As a delegation from Japan visits the Sooner State to celebrate 30 years of the Kyoto-Oklahoma Sister State relationship on November 18, 2015, one former state leader can be largely credited with the initially forging those ties.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to get Oklahoma to start thinking internationally,” said former Governor George Nigh. “There were times when I was governor that we had trouble convincing people of the importance of connecting Oklahoma internationally, but I’m very proud of what it is today.”

Nigh credits his ties to the Junior Chamber International organization and his role as a pitchman of Oklahoma City as host of the group’s 1965 international congress. As both a governmental representative and junior chamber member, Nigh attended international meetings in locales as far flung as Paris and Hong Kong to promote Oklahoma City as a host for the International Jaycees.

“We had representatives from 70 countries from around the world come to Oklahoma City to attend that conference,” said Nigh in a July 2015 article on www.OKGIT.com. “Getting that international conference held here, that is what got me interested in more international things as they related to Oklahoma.”

He acknowledges that there were some feelings of resentment towards his administration’s efforts to forger global ties with Oklahoma, as well as his office’s use of funds to send the then-governor on international trips promoting the Sooner State. More so, when it came to Japanese companies, the memories of WWII and Pearl Harbor were hard to forget for many Oklahomans, even forty years after the war’s end.

“I was in the navy at the end of WWII, so I know the resentment. But, the world had changed,” said the McAlester, Oklahoma-native.

Senator Randy Bass

Senator Randy Bass

The governor made it a point of selling a landlocked state like Oklahoma as the center of the U.S. Thanks in large part to its road, rail and river infrastructure, Oklahoma is roughly one day’s journey from the east and west coasts and borders with Canada and Mexico. Its location, educated workforce and low cost of living have been selling points for many an international firm. Nigh counts the Hitachi Corporation’s basing of its factory in Norman, Oklahoma as proof of these factors.

In his trip to inaugurate the Kyoto Prefecture – Oklahoma Sister State relationship in 1985, Nigh found out he wouldn’t be the only ‘Okie in attendance at his reception press conference. Current State Senator Randy Bass, from Lawton, Oklahoma, was a professional baseball player in Japan at the time of Nigh’s visit. As a fellow Oklahoman, Bass had been invited to the governor’s reception. Though the two had never met before, Bass greeted the governor and gave a brief statement to a packed room of Japanese media.

“Randy was the most popular baseball player in Japan when I visited,” recalled Nigh. “When I saw how many people were at the reception, I said ‘My gosh, I have never received this much press attention in my whole political career!’”

The plan was for Nigh to address the assembled crowd following Bass’ remarks, who himself had to leave before the governor spoke in order to get ready for the game. However, all did not go to plan. After speaking, Bass shook the governor’s hand and excused himself from the press conference.

“He left, and every member of the press but two left before I spoke” said Nigh with a laugh. “Here I am speaking, and they’re coming up and pulling the microphones off the podium from in front of me. They came to Randy Bass. But Randy being there allowed me to become known in Japan.”

Despite that, Nigh credits Bass’ boost as being vitally important in his cementing the Kyoto-Oklahoma relationship. The two are slated to attend Wednesday’s afternoon at the reception Oklahoma State Capitol to celebrate 30 years of the sister state relationship.

Just two short months after her posting as the new British Consul General to Houston, Karen Bell visited the Oklahoma State Capitol on October 6, 2015 for a meeting with state leaders and officials, including members of the Oklahoma Governor’s International Team. The visit, which included a meeting with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, and luncheon with members of the state house, senate and supreme court and other cabinet members took place in the senate lounge. OKGIT member and honorary British Consul for Oklahoma, Roger Randle, organized the event for the incoming Houston consul, which was attended by other OKGIT members including State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hoffmeister, Secretary of State Chris Benge as well as former U.S. Ambassador Edwin Corr.

Landlocked and situated more than five hundred miles from the nearest international border, Oklahoma is not typically known for its international ties. Yet the Sooner State is a top destination for foreign students, travelers and companies. Oklahoma-made products are shipped far and wide, stimulating the state’s economy while adding to employment. According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s 2014 Global Report, foreign companies employ more than 48,000 Oklahomans, while the state exported more than $6.3 billion worth of goods and products.

These vital economic metrics are the result of decades’ worth of work by local business and government leaders in raising Oklahoma’s international profile. One such leader was former Governor George Nigh.

Governor Governor Nigh

Governor Governor Nigh

Nigh’s focus on building the state’s international ties truly began with his affiliation as a member of the Junior Chamber International. The then-lieutenant governor played a key role in campaigning for Oklahoma City’s role as host for the group’s annual international congress. As both a governmental representative and junior chamber member, Nigh attended international meetings in locales as far flung as Paris and Hong Kong to promote Oklahoma City as a host for the International Jaycees.

“It wasn’t easy because the Jaycees had rules that allowed for only one host city per country,” explained Nigh. “That meant Oklahoma City had to be selected by the junior chamber’s members above everywhere else in America, and then win the international selection process as well.”

With Nigh helping lead the charge, Oklahoma City was selected above major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1965, Nigh was one of the participants in the international congress taking place in the heart of Oklahoma City at the Skirvin Hotel. Nigh even arranged for the conference’s official hostess to be Perle Mesta, a member of the Skirvin family and a famous Washington D.C . socialite, former ambassador to Luxembourg and subject of the Broadway musical “Call Me Madam.”

“We had representatives from 70 countries from around the world come to Oklahoma City to attend that conference,” said Nigh. “Getting that international conference held here, that is what got me interested in more international things as they related to Oklahoma.”

He recalled that one of his biggest challenges in building Oklahoma’s international ties, one shared many governors’ who’ve followed Nigh, was trying to put the state’s best foot forward to potential investors abroad while being criticized back home. Legitimate concerns about funding for international delegations often times became muddled with sniping by opponents looking to score easy political points.

Nigh’s experience in drawing multinational company Hitachi to Norman stands out particularly in this regard.

After months of discussions with the Japanese corporation, Nigh and Hitachi’s president reached a tentative agreement that would see the company open a location in Norman. The only condition was that the governor hold on releasing the announcement until the company president had time to present the plan to Hitachi’s board of directors.

“Word got out that I had been in Japan, and someone at The Daily Oklahoman ran an editorial cartoon looking into the cabin of an airplane as I ate rice with chopsticks,” recalled the state’s longest serving governor with obvious disappointment. “Hitachi called me and said that if that is how Oklahoma saw Hitachi, that we could forget about them coming.”

In a last minute bid to save the deal, Nigh boarded an airplane that very night and flew to Japan alone. Meeting with the Hitachi board, Nigh explained the political dynamics at play in the state and the cartoon’s true target.

Said Nigh, “I told them that is not how our state viewed Hitachi, but rather how one newspaper viewed me.”

The governor’s last minute bid proved effective, as Hitachi’s ongoing presence in Norman can affirm.

Hitachi Computer Products (America), Inc.  of Norman, Okla.

Hitachi Computer Products (America), Inc. of Norman, Okla.

Nigh found challenges in overcoming misconceptions about the state abroad too, many of which were fueled by the United States greatest export; its popular culture.

“I was at a reception for a trade delegation in Hong Kong where the host came in late, walked by me without introducing himself and took to the podium to say that the only thing he knew about Oklahoma was what he read in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.”

While he combated misconceptions about the state’s true potential versus the landscape popularized by the Jodes, Nigh credits the association with one native son, Will Rogers, and one play, “Oklahoma!” for presenting the it in a better light.

In fact, Nigh’s association with the latter extends further than his role as the politician responsible for introducing legislation making it the state’s official song. As he tells it, during his participation in a delegation of five U.S. governors touring Japan in 1982, the country’s emperor met each member of the delegation with a hand shake.

“He greeted us individually and said something nice about each state, but didn’t speak more than that initial greeting to any of the other governors. I’m the last one he shakes hands with, and he tells me that when he thinks of Oklahoma, he pictures wheat, cattle and oil,” recalled Nigh. “Then he turns to walk away. But then he turned back to me and says very enthusiastically, ‘Great musical!’.”

The former governor has dozens of stories like this, each told with an enthusiasm about the experience but also for the state that each tale centers on. This unbridled passion for Oklahoma and its potential for connections globally is just one reason why he was awarded the Sister Cities International OKC Global Vision Award in April 2015.

“George Nigh was a visionary in understanding how important international relationships would be for Oklahoma’s future,” said Vicki Clark Gourley, president of Sister Cities OKC in a release regarding the award.

Looking back to where Oklahoma has come from the days when Nigh was first promoting Oklahoma City as a premier destination for the International Jaycees, the Sooner State has benefited greatly from the foresight of its longest serving governor.