MOORE — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt reiterated a message to a group of Moore business owners on Wednesday — the economy must remain open.
Stitt met with business owners who have received grant funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Stitt’s trip began with a tour of Horn Equipment Company, a recipient of a $25,000 Oklahoma Business Relief Program award, and ended with a roundtable discussion with seven business owners at the Moore Chamber of Commerce.
State Department of Commerce Executive Director Brent Kisling began the discussion with an update on the Stitt administration’s efforts to help business owners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stitt said the goal of several CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act programs, including OBRP [Oklahoma Business Relief Program] and the Oklahoma Bounce Back Assistance Program, were designed to help keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic.
Stitt then gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 situation and his thoughts on how Oklahoma should proceed. Stitt recently recovered from COVID-19 and did not wear a mask during Wednesday’s meeting.
“Obviously, I want everyone to know Oklahoma is open for business,” Stitt said. “We want to keep Oklahomans employed. I believe we’re so fortunate to be in Oklahoma because we haven’t shut down our economy. We’ve fully reopened for the last two months. It’s a different world in other states.”
Stitt cited Oklahoma’s recent low unemployment rate as a reason for his continued push to keep the state economy open. The state unemployment rate is 6.6% and ranks as the sixth lowest in the country as of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We’re starting to get some positivity and some good feelings. We’re being safe and cautious, but we realize in Oklahoma that we have to start moving forward with our lives, because this may be the new normal. There’s no guarantee we’re not going to have COVID-19 in January or next August.”
While many school districts across the state, including Moore, have recently begun in-person instruction for the fall semester, Stitt urged school districts that are starting virtually to reconsider switching to in-person instruction. Moore Public Schools began its semester on Aug. 13 with a three-option plan that includes in-person instruction and Norman Public Schools is scheduled to begin its year fully virtual on Aug. 24.
Stitt cited the state’s recent COVID-19 numbers as a reason for school districts to continue in-person instruction. Oklahoma’s seven-day new case average has been trending down over the last week as of Wednesday, though the state is still reporting a 7.3% positive rate out of all recorded COVID-19 tests, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
“I believe the science tells us we need to get our kids in school,” Stitt said. ”You have to balance risk with whatever you’re doing ... when you totally shut down, there’s risk to that. ... We believe the science tells us we should have in-person school. We’ve appropriated $10 million to deliver (personal protective equipment) around the state of Oklahoma and to every school district to make sure our teachers and students are protected.
“All of the school districts are being innovative. We believe in local control, and we’re letting those local communities decide how to keep their students safe. … But education to me is nonnegotiable. That’s why I’ve been so bullish on getting our kids back to school. I think parents are with me, but parents are going to have to stand up and really push those school districts and school board members to make that possible.”
Wednesday’s meeting ended with Deidre Ebrey, Moore director of economic development, giving Stitt and local business owners an update on the city’s current sales tax revenue. Ebrey said sales tax revenue is up 9.5% compared to this time last year, and attributed it to efforts from the state and local business owners in working to remain open.
“Tax dollars are everything to a municipality, and we’re seeing great, great rebounds, none of which we expected and none of which we budgeted,” Ebrey said. “I’m so incredibly proud of you guys for staying the course and doing everything you could to stay open, and to our residents who stay here and shop here and understand how important it is.”
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