Phil Albert describes himself as extremely humbled to take over the chairmanship of the Tulsa Regional Chamber for 2017. The Oklahoma City native and Oklahoma Baptist University grad has been a Tulsa resident since 1980, starting his career as an accountant before moving into the manufacturing industry for 24 years with JEM Engineering, where he served 10 years as president.
In 2005, he and business partner Phil Parduhn started Pelco Structural in Claremore. Pelco designs, manufactures and provides logistical solutions for steel infrastructure products, including transmission lines for wind farms in western Oklahoma and Kansas. This is the first time in Chamber history that the board chair’s business is located in a regional partner community outside of Tulsa. Albert has been married to his wife, Jo, for 36 years and has four children and nine grandchildren.
A thoughtful man of measured words, Albert sat down with TulsaPeople at the Tulsa Regional Chamber offices to share his leadership vision, which has a strong emphasis on improving public education locally and throughout the state.
What is your focus for the Tulsa Regional Chamber in 2017? I think it continues to be education and workforce concerns, quality of life and opportunities for the Chamber to be a catalyst for expansion. Of all the organizations I’m involved in, I think the Chamber is the most relevant in terms of addressing workforce needs and educational issues for northeastern Oklahoma and, for that matter, the state of Oklahoma. I’m going to be the first regional chair of the Tulsa Chamber, and I want to blur the lines between urban and rural concerns as they relate to issues like education, workforce and quality of life.
When I opened my business in Claremore 12 years ago, there was a distinct line drawn as to what urban and rural issues were, but over the last 12 years I’ve really seen that line blur — and I don’t think it matters when you’re looking at educational issues or workforce issues. Whether you’re in Claremore or Tulsa or another city in northeastern Oklahoma, I think our interests are all the same.
Additionally, OU-Tulsa and the Chamber are exploring the possibility for Tulsa to become a Blue Zones city. A Blue Zones city addresses, in a public-private way, health issues in a geographic area as they relate to nutrition, to schools, to health insurance costs — both personal and occupational — and I hope that the Chamber can be a catalyst for seeing that project take off in 2017. I would love to see Tulsa become a Blue Zones community.
Where does improving and promoting education fit in the Chamber’s agenda? I think that education is a primary piece of the overall equation, whether you’re focused on quality of life or expanding your business or looking at new product opportunities. As we try to make our businesses attractive to people outside our area, I believe one of the first things they look at in terms of the quality of life is our educational opportunities — specifically public education opportunities at all levels.
I’m the newest regent for the University of Oklahoma, and I have spent the past year getting familiar with higher education issues. I was appalled to see statistics that show that less than 15 percent of the cost of higher education is borne by the public sector. When I went to college, those statistics were just the opposite. Eighty percent of the cost of higher education was borne by the state and 20 percent by families and private foundations and institutions. We talk about the importance of education in Oklahoma, and it’s become apparent that we’ve got to come up with better ways to guarantee quality opportunities for our kids. I think we risk falling further behind other states if we don’t address public education in a bigger way than just teacher salaries. It’s a much bigger issue than that.
Do you feel that you and the Chamber will be able to exercise some influence when it comes to promoting public education? We will. The Chamber absolutely supports quality public education and opportunities for everyone in northeastern Oklahoma. You know, education is the great enabler. It’s the great equalizer, and I don’t think you’ll find people more sensitive to that fact than members of the Chamber.
What’s your assessment of the overall economy in Tulsa and regionally? You know, the economy appears to be stabilizing. We’d sure like to see oil and gas at a higher level. They seem to have stabilized at a level that’s a little lower than maybe what we’d like to see. I hope in 2017 we see oil and gas prices back at a level where we see real growth again. I also think we’ve been fairly insulated here in northeastern Oklahoma because of diversification of opportunity as it relates to the number of industries present here, not the least of which are aviation, health care and manufacturing.
I have listened with great interest to speculation about addressing infrastructure at the national level, and I certainly hope to see that happen.
What is the one thing, when looking back on your term, that you would like to say you were able to get done? I’d love to be able to say that we came up with a real plan for protecting the value of a public education in Oklahoma during my term. I’d like to see the proliferation of public-private partnerships. The Chamber has been a tremendous galvanizer for putting businesses and schools together to address simple needs, reading programs, partners in education — so many opportunities for our business community to step in and fill in gaps that are not entirely financial.
Here in Tulsa the Reading Partners program that is promoted by the Chamber is the perfect example of a way that a business can provide community support for some really important programs like Impact Tulsa. I’m excited to see what our new mayor (G.T. Bynum) and his administration will do to play a role in bringing education to the forefront of concerns of the folks in Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.
What are some of your favorite personal activities? I love to read. I’m a former chairman of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, and so I love history and I love the way history is being used here in Tulsa to address quality of life — whether it be the OKPOP Museum or Woody Guthrie Center or Philbrook Museum and the proliferation of museums in our downtown urban core. These places and others provide real entertainment opportunities that help us attract the kind of talent that we want in Tulsa.