The Oklahoma legislature is often criticized for being shortsighted with its policy making. While some criticism may be warranted, more often than not our legislature has endeavored to create policies and programs that are focused on the future of our state.

One such program was created in 1987 when HB 1444, known as the Economic Recovery Act, was passed during the worst of the Great Oil Bust. Out of that legislation, the state agency known as the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) was created.

When OCAST came into existence 30 years ago, the state was dominated by an energy sector that was in the midst of a long downturn.  One in 11 Oklahoma workers who had jobs in 1987 was employed in the energy sector and the state unemployment rate topped 7 percent. 

OCAST was created to help diversify the state’s economy. Its mission included the promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, implementing programs that both inspire and fund scientific research and supporting creation of technology-related businesses across the state.

Look back over the past 30 years and you can see OCAST’s impact in some of the state’s biggest technology stories.

A great example is a $150,000 grant awarded in 1992 to University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center researcher Dr. William Canfield. That grant supported groundbreaking research into causes of often fatal enzyme deficiency conditions such as Pompe disease.

Dr. Canfield eventually developed a treatment for Pompe disease and founded a company called Novazyme to commercialize it. In 2001, pharmaceutical giant Genzyme acquired Novazyme for $206 million.

Dr. Canfield remained in Oklahoma, subsequently building Cytovance Biologics into one of the state’s largest biotech companies.  Along the way he developed The Hill condominium housing community near downtown Oklahoma City.

Today, Dr. Canfield leads Siwa Biotech, which is advancing a technology to ensure that people having blood transfusions receive the correct blood type. OCAST has provided support for Siwa just as it did for Canfield’s earlier research that became Novazyme.

Another example of OCAST’s impact is WeGoLook. That Oklahoma City-based company turned an innovative concept of sending field agents out to verify remote property for sale into a flourishing company that today employs more than 100 Oklahomans locally and supports 20,000 contract-based “Lookers” worldwide.

WeGoLook’s growth was supported by a $325,000 investment from the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund, managed by OCAST’s not-for-profit private partner, i2E, Inc.  Late last year, a majority stake in WeGoLook was acquired for $36.5 million by Atlanta-based risk management and insurance industry giant Crawford & Co.

For three decades, OCAST has been an exemplary steward of state dollars. The 30-year return on the investment of state appropriated dollars through OCAST is 22-to-1. That means that for every state dollar invested through an OCAST program, 22 dollars were returned through revenue imported into Oklahoma through sales or leveraged funding.

Today, only 1 in 27 workers are in the energy sector. Even with the energy sector ravaged over the past three years by another period of low oil and gas prices, the state’s unemployment rate held steady at two full percentage points below that of the oil bust of the 1980s.

“Diversification is working, and our economy is more resilient than ever to the ebbs and flows of energy prices,” C. Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director, wrote in the forward to the agency’s 2017 Impact Report.

OCAST is just one example of the many ways in which we in the legislature are working to improve the economy of Oklahoma through growth and diversification.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a new normal that morality can be a choice at the expense of integrity and confidence in our government; and in the case of the senseless acts of violence in Las Vegas last week, the loss of lives.  The tragedy in Las Vegas represents the evil that exists within the hearts of a fallen man living outside the will of our Heavenly Father. May His mercy and grace provide comfort to the families of those Americans so brutally slain in Las Vegas. "The future of our Nation is determined within the morality of our  homes." Abraham Lincoln   

            To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 429, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at sharp@oksenate.gov, or call (405) 521-5539.