September 18, 2022


Visioning and Re-Visioning: Incubating Ideas for Tech Entrepreneurship

The future is digital. One of the most significant ways to grow an economy and create jobs and wealth is to be a part of this digital revolution and encourage the creation of scalable tech startups. However, there is a bias against rural America. Rural America accounts for 13% of the nation’s workforce, but only 5% of tech jobs. This disparity has a negative impact on rural communities.


On September 6, 2022, the staff at Ada Jobs Foundation was joined by two entrepreneurship specialists from Rural Innovation Strategies, Inc., a sister organization to the Center on Rural Innovation. Molly Pyle, Head of Entrepreneurship, and Rose Vieland, Entrepreneurship Programs Specialist, came to Ada in order to help the Ada Jobs Foundation realize their goals of having a successful startup technology incubator in our area, which would be a necessary component to supporting scalable tech startups.

Ultimately, the Ada Jobs Foundation hopes to see the creation of an incubator serving Ada and the Southern Oklahoma region, where entrepreneurs can find the help they need, a space that will allow them to grow new companies, and an opportunity to change the world from the heart of Ada.

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On Wednesday, September 14th, the Ada Jobs Foundation presented an update on the changes to the Decennial Census Data from 2010 to 2020 to the Ada Rotary Club.

We stressed three points during the presentation:

I.Slow Growth “Regime”

Pontotoc County grew by 573 people or only 1.5% in the last decade to a total of 38,065 and this matches a long-term trend of slow yet steady growth. However, Pontotoc County was one of only 27 Oklahoma Counties that grew between 2010 to 2020, despite being a net-exporter of talent. Similar to economic growth regimes, this slow growth in our population presents a kind of “regime” related to the challenges we will face in terms of having an adequate tax base for schools, public services, and infrastructure maintenance. We expect these challenges in this slow growth “regime” will persist over a long period of time and will demand creative approaches to planning and economic development.


II. Pontotoc County is Becoming More Diverse

From 2010 to 2020, Pontotoc County’s residents are more diverse, with almost twice as many people identifying as being two races or more and over 600 more people identifying as “American Indian and Alaska Native alone.” The percentage of people identifying as “White alone” dropped by 10% to being 61% of the population. 

This would seem to match larger population trends for the region and nation-wide, and it bolsters our approach to ensure our economic development and entrepreneurship work is inclusive and representative of our region.


III. Housing is a Critical Issue

More housing was constructed in Pontotoc County over the last decade, but it still may not be enough to satisfy demand. The total number of housing units increased by 811 to a total of 17,406 housing units from 2010 to 2020. This represents a growth of about 4.8%.


However, this rate is slower than the housing unit growth rate of 6.5% from 2000 to 2010. And while the housing rate appears to be outpacing the population growth rate, there is a possible dampening effect on people who might live in Pontotoc County but are unable to find adequate housing options. According to the US Census ‘On the Map’ website, the number of people commuting from over 50 miles away to a job in Pontotoc County increased from 4,309 people in 2010 to 5,473 people in 2019, a 4% increase in the total share of those working in the county. The total number of people employed in Pontotoc County increased by 1,128 workers from 2012 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.


While the 811 new housing units is significant, this figure is not enough to fully house the new workers added to Pontotoc County over the last decade. Nor does this figure account for the rate of owner occupancy, housing condition, and market level for these new housing units. We estimate that Pontotoc County is already short 350 housing units to match job growth trends and more workers may require an even greater rate of new housing created over the coming decade.


Our staff is going to the IEDC Annual Conference in Oklahoma City next week from Sunday, September 18th through Wednesday, September 21st. The International Economic Development Council is the largest professional organization serving the Economic Development field and the Annual Conference is an event that brings economic developers, consultants, and thought leaders together from around the world. The Ada Jobs Foundation staff are active in this organization, and they will take advantage of professional development and networking opportunities.


Peggy Saunkeah's weekly shout out to individuals, companies, and organizations working to enhance Ada and our economic development efforts.

Saunkeah Shout OUT this week is for Dr. Stacey Bolin, Director, Wilburn L. Smith Center for Entrepreneurship and Oklahoma Business Week and Associate Professor, Stonecipher School of Business, East Central University (ECU). Stacey submitted an application for Introduction to Entrepreneurship to be included as part of the new ECU General Education program received word last week that IT WAS APPROVED! This change will expose more students to entrepreneurship as a practice and as an approach to thinking and problem solving. Our local companies will benefit from a more entrepreneurial-minded workforce and it could lead to a number of new companies in Ada. We’re thrilled for Stacey and excited for ECU to make this change!


We were surprised this week to find that there was a great amount of interest from the Ada community in learning more about the changes in our local census data. As economic developers, we sometimes struggle to explain complex issues through a thicket of acronyms. Discussions about data can absolutely be dry and hard to convey.


There are a few ways that we can make our communication involving data and research more engaging. Mark Rembert, with the Center on Rural Innovation, often talks about how to tell stories using data by focusing less on the details and more on what the data points ultimately mean. The story behind our census and housing data is a story of opportunity and capacity. We see the demand for growth and we need to ensure our community has the capacity to do so. The conversation about location quotients in the aerospace industry is dry, but the story of a student going though Ada High School’s Aviation Program and finding a career in Ada as a machinist or a designer working on aircraft parts is something to which we can all relate.


This is the reason why we are focused on telling the story of entrepreneurship in our region. We understand the data, but we need to make the stories around the data points of real. We want to feature our entrepreneurs, innovators, and scientists so that people can be inspired and engaged. We’re telling the story so that people care about the data.


Ada Jobs Foundation


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