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Tribal Summit attendees

Spears Business hosts second Tribal Summit for workforce, economic development

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Media Contact: Julie Weathers | Director, Strategic Initiatives and Assessment | 405-744-8630 |

Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business and the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association hosted more than 70 tribal leaders March 23 for a workforce and economic development Tribal Summit on the Stillwater campus. The summit was sponsored by VGT-An Aristocrat Company and Player Performance Group.

The summit’s purpose was for tribal and tribal business leaders to discuss how Spears Business can provide educational assistance in workforce development as well as enhance the state’s economy. There were 22 tribes in attendance and 34 entities from 24 cities in Oklahoma and one representative from Texas participated.

Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Chairman Matthew Morgan helped recruit tribal leaders and he was impressed with the day and the attendees.

“Improving the lives of our citizens is a major priority and the Spears School has developed programs specifically for tribes that we are excited to be involved in,” Morgan said. “Tribes are a major employer in this state, and we appreciate being asked to be a part of the process to improve economic development possibilities and workforce development opportunities.”

In 2019, it was reported that the total economic impact of tribes in Oklahoma was $15.6 billion. Oklahoma tribal nations employ more than 50,000 people, pay nearly $2.5 billion in wages and benefits and spend more than $300 million on roads and construction projects.

“Spears Business recently received approval to offer both an undergraduate certificate in gaming and resort management and a graduate certificate in casino and gaming management that will launch this fall,” said Dr. Brij Thapa, Carl and Marilynn Thoma Distinguished Chair, professor and head of the OSU School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. “These credit courses exhibit our commitment to the tribal community, and we look forward to serving our state in this area.”

The daylong summit was facilitated by Chris Province of the Player Performance Group from Tulsa, who serves in a management consultant role to many tribes in Oklahoma and out-of-state.

Two concurrent sessions focused on workforce development moderated by Dr.  Abbey Davis, director of the OSU Center for the Future of Work in Spears Business, and Dr. Marc Tower, assistant dean of innovative education and growth in Spears Business. The Workforce Development panel included tribal panelists from across the state: Emmanuel Bezzell, director of operations, Muscogee Nation Gaming Enterprises, Tulsa; Sara Elledge, vice president of human resources, Chickasaw Nation Industries, Oklahoma City; Hunter Palmer, director, economic development, Cherokee Nation Career Services, Tahlequah, Oklahoma; and Emma Wesley-Harjo, job placement and training services, Seminole Nation, Wewoka, Oklahoma.

The Economic Development panel had five experts represented in the discussion: Dr. James Collard, director, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Industrial Development Authority, Shawnee, Oklahoma; Jacob Keyes, chairman, Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Perkins, Oklahoma; Tralynna Sherrill Scott, J.D., chief economist, Cherokee Nation Businesses, Catoosa, Oklahoma; Chris Shilling, under secretary, technology and innovation, The Chickasaw Nation, Ada, Oklahoma; and Michael Southard, director, economic development, Choctaw Nation, Durant, Oklahoma.

“As a land-grant university, we have a commitment to assist the tribal nations as well as their businesses in developing and educating people and providing assistance with economic development where we can,” said Dr. James Payne, dean of Spears Business.

Ten Spears Business faculty facilitators as well as a representative from the OSU Spears Tribal Steering committee helped facilitate the roundtable discussions focusing on tribal government and business workforce and economic development.

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