Normally, this would be the time of year when many Oklahomans hit the road to enjoy the outdoors or beat the heat. Certainly, they would be making plans for celebrating Independence Day. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused most people to reevaluate their social plans, and forced the state of Oklahoma to adjust its strategy for rolling out a new brand to encourage business development and tourism. Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell discussed the "Imagine That" campaign and the impact of coronavirus on the state with KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley in the latest Capitol Insider.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley and our guest, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell. Welcome.
Matt Pinnell: Well, thanks for having me, guys. Appreciate it.
Dick Pryor: Good to visit with you.
Matt Pinnell: Yeah.
Shawn Ashley: You have been instrumental, Governor, in a rebranding effort for Oklahoma with a new phrase, Imagine That, in a new public image campaign. Where does that stand now?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah. So, we launched kind of the new brand for Oklahoma and I would say a brand for Oklahoma because we didn't really have a brand before. That's kind of a key point with Oklahomans, and so this was built by Oklahomans for Oklahoma. Imagine That, imagining Oklahoma as the hub of America, not just the crossroads, but the hub of America. And that's a key distinction, because what we're trying to build here is a state that is not just the best place to raise a family. We already know that. But it's the best place for anyone to start a business. It's the best place for any entrepreneur to be able to thrive. And so, focusing on businesses in Oklahoma is key but going around the country and going around the world, reassuring individuals now is, there's never been a better time to really be going out into the rest of the country with that message of, hey, you can work remotely, you can work from anywhere, how about you do that in Oklahoma, where there's 20-minute commutes and no lines and where you can social distance. So that is something that you're going to see moving forward in the state of Oklahoma.
Shawn Ashley: Another part of that was to give the state of Oklahoma as sort of a unified brand to get state agencies to buy into that. How well is that effort going?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah, no, that's a really key point as well. I mean, this really is an agency brand as well. And here's some numbers that will really shock you. We spent three hundred thousand dollars rebranding the state of Oklahoma, and a lot of people said, well, gosh, that's a lot of money. It's going to save the state of Oklahoma over a million dollars a year conservatively, because here's why: you have over 200 government agencies in the state of Oklahoma. They're not all going to be doing their own branding efforts anymore. You're not going to have 200 different logos. You're not going to have, you know, agency upon agencies wanting to rebrand and spending 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars at a time. That money adds up. And so, because we have a uniform logo, a uniform one Oklahoma moving forward, the state of Oklahoma we're going to save a whole lot of taxpayer dollars doing that. I will tell you that the easiest part of this so far has been working with government agencies through this.
Dick Pryor: You want this to generate interest in the state for business recruitment and tourism. But a pandemic is a tough time to roll out a new brand. Is it gaining traction?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah, it is. And, you know, we kind of said internally in our office, you know, we don't we didn't want to have to do this through, you know, an unprecedented pandemic. But at the same time, to have this new brand. Through that, just think of Governor Stitt going in front of cameras literally every day and the backdrop was 20 different logos. We didn't have that. We had one uniform brand through that pandemic that told people where to go. Communicating in a seamless way that doesn't confuse taxpayers is something I think is overlooked. And thankfully, we launched the brand at the right time for more than pandemic.
Shawn Ashley: During the recent meeting of the Oklahoma Capital Improvement Authority. Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department Director Jerry Winchester mentioned that the parks saw one point six million dollar increase in revenue in March, April and May – the lockdown months during the pandemic. As we head into the July 4th weekend, when people tend to go outside, hit the lakes and state parks and have gatherings with family and friends, do you expect to see that trend continue?
Matt Pinnell: Oh, I absolutely do. And that is right, Shawn. We have hit all-time records at our state park system. In the state, Texas’s state parks were shut down for a little bit. That added certainly to the numbers. And what we love to hear is Texans coming to Oklahoma seeing probably for the first time how great our state parks are. And then they say they're going to come back because they had such a great experience. We certainly see and hope, firmly believe, that we will see big numbers in our state park system throughout the summer and into the fall as well. Coupled with that, as we just passed a 48 million dollar bond this past legislative session to fix up all of our state park lodges. Over a hundred new bathroom facilities are going to be going into our state park system. I'm hearing a lot of people saying, “Amen.” I can hear it now, because that's kind of the feedback that we get, is, “hey, we love our state park system but could you fix some of the things that have needed to be fixed for a very long time.” The answer is help is on the way with that state park bond. And I firmly believe our state park system will be top 10 because of it.
Dick Pryor: What have the parks and lodges been doing to prepare for visitors during this time?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah. You know, just like every business, you know, we've had really weekly conversations with our park managers and, again, staff because of it. You know, when it comes to lodges cleaning those lodges. Now, our lodges were shut down, state parks were open. You could still go social distance and walk on trails. But our lodges were closed. Now our lodges are starting to reopen back up. But, you know, cleaning supplies, making sure that we are fully prepared when it comes to personal protection equipment, all of that matters because here's the deal…as Shawn said, we've had a record amount of people come to a state park. If they don't feel comfortable, once they get to that state park, they're going to leave immediately. So, it is our responsibility that if we have these big numbers that we are making sure that things are clean, they're constantly cleaned, trails are cleaned up as well, and they feel safe.
Dick Pryor: Governor, after weeks of relatively low numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, which led to an early reopening of the state's economy, Oklahoma is now one of the states with the fastest growing rates of infections. The seven-day rolling average of cases has been going up every day since June 8th. What should people in Oklahoma do now?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah, I think we have to make sure we keep the big thing the big thing, and that is making sure social distancing, wearing masks are things that we do on a daily basis. At the beginning of this, we were, and as we opened things back up, folks knew that when you open things back up, phase one to phase two to phase three that you were going to see a little you were going to see a spike. But it is very important that we kind of return to kind of the basics. And the basics, again are, social distancing is still something that we recommend and it's still something within CDC guidelines. Wearing a mask is something that I think needs to become a daily routine of individuals around the state of Oklahoma as well as it is becoming in other states, kind of breaking up that social norm, that a mask is weird. It's not. I think it's really important that we would we wear those where we are not able to social distance. So, these are things that mayors around the state of Oklahoma are communicating again. I think we're in a really good position when it comes to hospital beds, still, personal protection equipment. But when it comes to just that personal responsibility of individuals around the state, we've got to make sure that we do this the right way as we safely reopen.
Shawn Ashley: You mentioned personal responsibility and the steps that all of us should take. Is there anything the state should be doing now to help reduce that curve again?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah, I mean, again, communication is key from a statewide level. I mean, our Department of Health needs to make sure that, again, we are we're getting these guidelines out to cities. So we have, again, continue to have a daily briefing on all of these issues to see what are our numbers looking like today. What's that seven-day rolling average? And we'll continue to do that.
Dick Pryor: The state of Texas has paused its reopening because of the spike in cases. Does the significant shift in Oklahoma trigger a change in the state's approach?
Matt Pinnell: You know, again, I think that the triggering of the approach will be hospitalizations, in large part. And again, that's something that we're going to have to take a look at. I think a lot of the conversation you're going to start hearing soon as well is on schools. You know, it's July. Schools go back in, you know, in mid-August. And what does that look like from state to state? So those are conversations that we are having really on a daily basis now as well.
Dick Pryor: It was feared the Trump rally, the campaign rally in Tulsa, would be a super spreader event. It's too early to know whether that will turn out to be the case. Most of the people there were not practicing social distancing or wearing face coverings, including you and the governor, in the crowd. What precautions are you taking, if any?
Matt Pinnell: Yeah, well, you know, I really from a getting in and getting out of that arena again, we were, we were brought in after everybody was seated and we were able to get out before the rally was even over, so we were sheltered off a little bit from the rest of the crowd. Certainly, precautions for us. We continue to get tested. We continue to social distance and wear masks where we should be wearing masks. So, you know, I think you will have, and it's why you have in the city of Tulsa, you have kind of an uptick of people getting tested. I think people should. We're taking temperatures. We're making sure that we don't have any symptoms, as well.
Shawn Ashley: You were very direct a moment ago and saying people should social distance, they should wear mask and face coverings. Do you think that message needs to be more strongly stated by leaders such as yourself and Governor Stitt as we go forward?
Matt Pinnell: You know, I mean, it might be, I mean I've been pretty consistent that it's something we need to be doing. You know, I mean, I don't think there should be, again, any social pressure from folks not to be wearing a mask. I mean, if everybody was wearing a mask, maybe. Yes, certainly would be a whole lot easier. And where do you wear a mask, where you don't wear a mask? You know, bottom line, you take it in your car wherever you go, first off. You know, do you have to wear it in your car while you're on the phone. Maybe not. But if you're going into Lowe's or if you're going, you know, anywhere else, yeah, I think you should have it with you, should be wearing it. As more people do it I think it will become easier for people to get on board with this. The reality is that we have to learn how to manage it. I think it's going to be important that we continue to wash our hands constantly and we wear masks.
Dick Pryor: Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell, stay safe and thanks for joining us.
Matt Pinnell: Thank you guys so much. I appreciate it.
Dick Pryor: Good to have you with us. And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.