In order to help boost the local economy, Brad Cooksey, president of Lawton Economic Development Corporation, sets up an inventory of factors that recruit tier 1 jobs to the community while also finding ways to help established businesses thrive.
“LEDC’s mission is to produce jobs, whether that be through recruitment of new business or by helping our current businesses with retention and expansion,” said Cooksey. “A lot of times people get caught up in what’s new, and I’m all for that. We need that. But we simply cannot overlook our existing businesses and not assist them.”
Cooksey explained that by having strong relationships with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and local utility companies, LEDC is better able to draw companies from other areas.
Companies may look to expand or relocate for any number of reasons, he said. So, they hire a site selector or a consultant who sends their client’s criteria to all the states’ Departments of Commerce. Those departments compete to match the company’s specifications which includes employee base, site readiness and access to mass transit and utilities. The more factors Lawton has available, the better the chances of bringing in new tier 1 employers to southwest Oklahoma, which also allows for retail and service industry jobs.
In addition, LEDC is responsible for cultivating relationships with Fort Sill and Lawton’s manufacturers such Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Republic Paperboard, Silverline Plastics and Bar-S Foods and their subsidiaries.
“Lawton’s Goodyear plant is the biggest and most productive Goodyear in the world; Republic Paper just went through a $94 million expansion last year; Silverline Plastics is running strong as ever as is Bar-S Foods,” he stated. “And we’re very fortunate that they chose to be here and that they have thrived and have able to expand here because of the Lawton Advantage – the people of southwest Oklahoma.”
Growing up in Lawton, Cooksey went to Eisenhower Junior High and Eisenhower High School where he played football, basketball and baseball. In high school he worked with a local landscaper until his senior year when he worked for the groundskeeping and maintenance crews at Goodyear Recreational Area.
Combined with his academics, his lifelong passion for sports netted him a basketball scholarship to Cameron University where he played all four years while earning his degree in physical science with a minor in math.
“I got to Cameron right after they had stopped its football program, said Cooksey. “So, under basketball coach Jerry Stone, we got to play a lot of games outside the state. I had roommates from Florida, Michigan and California. It was good to be part of a team from all over the country.”
After graduation, Cooksey followed a career path of his parents who had both been schoolteachers for Lawton Public Schools.
“Dad was drafted into the Army. Once he served, he taught school for a couple years then went to Goodyear where he worked for approximately 30 years before retiring. Mom was a schoolteacher who taught mostly at Woodland Hills Elementary. Between her being a teacher there, my brother and me, and then our kids going there, there was a Cooksey at Woodland Hills for 38 straight years,” he said proudly.
Cooksey taught math and coached basketball and golf at his high school alma mater for 11 years. The interaction with students and student-athletes was something he found rewarding.
“As soon as I graduated, I went to back Eisenhower High and taught Algebra I and II, Math and Finance, and Geometry,” he said. “I took great pride in teaching. I really enjoyed the instructional time with the kids and tried to make learning enjoyable for them.
“Now I see a lot of my former students and players in the community and through social media and it’s good to see how well so many of them are doing.”
Cooksey began working in commercial insurance for J.T. Neal Insurance Agency. He then worked with Wilcox and McGrath, a subsidiary of BancFirst Corp. When colleague Jason Wells offered him a position at Insight Commercial Real Estate Brokerage, Cooksey found that it was his opportunity to help the community. With numerous listings, Cooksey looked for ways to promote commercial properties to business owners.
“When I was in commercial real estate, we were very busy,” he said. “What’s really changed commercial real estate over the last few years is the marijuana industry. Since marijuana was legalized, a lot of those buildings — even the larger buildings – have been leased out or bought to help facilitate that industry which does bring commerce to the city.”
“I feel pretty well-rounded when it comes to economic development because of my history and the relationships with business and community leaders that my family and I have built.”
Cooksey is a graduate of Leadership Lawton Class XXII and aspires to join Leadership Oklahoma. He is a board member for the Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, Cameron University Foundation Board of Directors. He is also a member of the Governor’s Economic Development Marketing Team, the Oklahoma Economic Development Council, Southern Economic Development and Oklahoma Southwest Alliance.
Cooksey and his wife of 18 years, Karen, live in Lawton with their two sons. She is the Executive Director of Elementary Education for Lawton Public Schools. Their elder son Carson, 15, is a freshman at Eisenhower High School and their younger Colin, 12, is a seventh grader at Eisenhower Middle School.
“Both of our kids are athletes and good students,” Cooksey said. “We’re very proud of them. They take their schoolwork very seriously, and more importantly, they’ve created good relationships with their peers, teachers and coaches.”
In FY 20, LEDC had 33 solid leads when they responded to RFIs (request for information) or sought potential clients out themselves, said Cooksey.
“The fact that we have such a strong military presence and strong manufacturing base – and now with FISTA (FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator) coming in, we’re in a pretty good spot for having a really diverse working environment in Lawton.”