Oklahoma and many Latin American countries have one thing in
common -- having to diversify their oil-dependent economies in order
At one time, Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, told Latin American
representatives attending a meeting of the Joint Special
International Development Committee Monday, tax revenues from the
energy industry made up about one-third of Oklahoma's state budget.
Since the oil bust of the early 1980s, its share has dropped to
about 10 percent.
"The development of international trade is a high priority for
the state of Oklahoma, maybe its top priority," the lawmaker said.
Nations, who chaired the meeting with Sen. Bernest Cain, D-
Oklahoma City, was part of an Oklahoma international trade
delegation that visited Washington, D.C., last summer.
"We got a new perspective on how important Latin America is to
Oklahoma as a trade partner," Nations said.
Attending Monday's meeting were government and business
representatives from Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua,
Venezuela and Ecuador. The group will also visit Washington, D.C.,
California and Puerto Rico.
Elba Julieta Garcia, with the Ministry of Finance in Venezuela,
asked how diversity of Oklahoma's economy was accomplished.
Nations said that it was actually a matter of necessity brought
about by the bottoming-out of the oil industry in the early 1980s.
"There has been more diversification of the Oklahoma economy in
the last decade than in all of state history," he said. "There's
nothing like necessity as a motivator."
To accelerate the transition, Nations said, the Legislature
enacted changes in the state's tax structure and incentives such as
the Quality Jobs Act to attract manufacturing and other types of
industry to Oklahoma.
Cain asked Garcia what steps Venezuela has taken toward
She replied that the nation is currently working on a foreign
investment law to encourage a more broadly based economy.
Nations said that in recent years Oklahoma's diversification
emphasis has been shifting to technology and ensuring an educated
Another trade representative asked how the move away from heavy
reliance on oil and agriculture was achieved without displacing
those who work in those areas.
Rep. M.C. Leist, D-Morris, said that some displacement cannot be
"That's just a fact of life," he said.
Leist said that Oklahoma's nationally known vocational-technical
education system is a valuable tool in retraining those affected by
changes in the state's economic structure. At the same time, he
said, the state is taking the initial steps in boosting the value-
added concept in agriculture rather than merely exporting its raw
Rep. Raymond G. McCarter, D-Marlow, said that when the oil
industry went bust, much of Oklahoma's remaining economy was in the
agriculture sector, and transition to a more diverse economy
structure was difficult.
"We had a tough time," he said.
McCarter said that many of those who had earned their living in
the energy sector had to retrain "or go to the unemployment office."
He agreed that the state's strong vo-tech system was the salvation
of many of those needing to learn new ways of making a living.
"We've done quite well, although some thought we wouldn't," he
said. "We're making giant strides today."
Nations said that the extent of the oil industry's problems
ultimately reached into most Oklahoma households.
"It was not hard to convince people of the need to change," he
Horacio Rose, with the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry of
Nicaragua, asked what is Oklahoma's general view of the Free Market
Area of the Americas concept.
"I think that Oklahoma is very interested in this prospect," said
Nations. "We've come to see Latin America as the best focus for the
development of international trade in Oklahoma. …