Over the past three years, billions of dollars have been appropriated by the federal government to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Most of these funds were used to meet the immediate needs of the COVID pandemic and associated challenges in our communities, but some of these funds were reserved for future investments. As a state, Oklahoma has nearly $2 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to invest in public infrastructure, health care and economic development.
As many of us know, the potential uses of ARPA funds in communities across the state far exceed our ability to fund these projects. For the $1.8 billion allocated to the state, nearly $18 billion in project applications have been submitted. In order to meet the needs of our communities and encourage continued growth, our state must responsibly invest the limited funds we have. Public-private partnerships are the quickest and most effective way to meet our state’s pressing labor and economic development needs.
Businesses across the state are ready to step up and partner with public agencies, colleges and CareerTechs to develop innovative ways to train more Oklahomans for the high-paying jobs of the future. Recently, Integris Health launched a new partnership with Southwestern Oklahoma State University to help provide tuition assistance for students pursuing nursing careers.
The opportunities presented by public-private partnerships are not limited to our state’s ARPA funds. Policies should be developed to make it easier for public and private institutions to work together to achieve our common goals. This is why I am encouraged by the work of Representative Stéphanie Bice at the federal level. Rep. Bice won the House’s passage of a bill that will make it easier for employers and CareerTech institutions to partner together to train workers for the high-needs jobs of today and tomorrow. Allowing such flexibility will increase Oklahomans’ access to mobile career paths and help employers find the skilled workers they need. I hope to see the US Senate pass this bill this year.
The tribes, businesses, nonprofits, and governments of Oklahoma all work every day to meet the needs of our citizens and improve the quality of life in our communities, and I believe we can do more by working together rather than in silos. I’m excited about how public-private partnerships can help strengthen our workforce and create well-paying jobs for Oklahoma families.
Timothy Pehrson is President and CEO of Integris Health.