A profile on Sean Kouplen written for the Oklahoma Venture Forum on the subject of Growing Business in Oklahoma.
For over two years, Sean Kouplen was the Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development under Governor Kevin Stitt. Under this position, Kouplen was in charge of economic development for Oklahoma, which involved bringing new businesses and helping the existing businesses grow. During his tenure, he brought in 100 new companies.
“We had some really high profile recruitment efforts,” said Sean Kouplen. “You may have seen the Tesla effort. I led that effort and initially recruited them here.”
Although in the end, Tesla went to Austin, Texas, Kouplen learned Oklahoma could compete in the electric vehicle manufacturing world. He began to market to electric vehicle manufacturers and said there are “some big, big, big ones that are looking at this state now.”
While recruitment efforts were one aspect of Kouplen’s job, he learned Oklahoma’s major companies were founded and grew here, and so he began asking, “What programs can we use to help our businesses grow?” One of the projects Kouplen put together was a venture capital advisory council, which includes people like Rick Nagel with Acorn Group and Erica Lucas with Thunder LaunchPad, to name a few. They would put together monthly investment calls, where they would feature companies and have investors calling in.
One of the surprising facts Kouplen learned as Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development was that Oklahoma could compete with anybody on a global scale in business.
“We are a very low-cost state. We have excellent educational institutions, excellent training,” said Kouplen. “We have excellent incentives for businesses that are either growing or wanting to move into the state. We’ve got a great location, great abundant natural resources, very flat organizational structure. I could get a company that was going to bring a hundred jobs to Oklahoma, in to visit with the governor in a matter of days. And you go to Texas, and they wouldn’t even talk to you if you don’t have a thousand jobs. And so I think that was a tremendous advantage.”
Kouplen believes one of the challenges the state faces in helping businesses is getting the word out about the available resources. He’s worked to centralize all those in one place at okcommerce.gov. The website features both incentive and non-cash programs to help entrepreneurs. Some of the tools for entrepreneurs in Oklahoma Kouplen mentioned include 36 Degrees North, Love’s Innovation Group, Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, and Thunder LaunchPad.
“I visited with a company in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, in my banking role, and they are expanding, building a big building. And they mentioned having a manufacturing plant in California, where they were very frustrated,” said Kouplen. “I laid out some of the things that the state could do to help them relocate to Oklahoma, and they had no idea. And I think they’re going to move hundreds of jobs here based upon one conversation. So that’s what I’m saying, in my opinion, we have the ingredients. We just have to continue doing a better job of packaging those and getting the word out through avenues like this.”
Sean Kouplen will be the featured keynote speaker for Oklahoma Venture Forum Annual Award Event on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021. Kouplen said he is excited to come to speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum about what he’s learned and what he sees in Oklahoma’s future.