A Small Town with a Strong Sense of Place

Miami, OK
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Miami, Oklahoma is a rural community located on Interstate-44 in the far northeastern corner of the state, twenty minutes away from Joplin, Missouri, and an hour and fifteen minutes away from both Bentonville, Arkansas and Tulsa, the closest Oklahoma metropolitan area to Miami.
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Micropolitan Miami, pronounced my-AM-uh, is the county seat of Ottawa County (population 30,000). The region has noteworthy Native American influences and contains the historical tribal boundaries of ten sovereign Native American tribes. Eight of the ten tribes are headquartered in Miami (see ninetribes.org).

“We have a unique Native American influence,” says Steve Gilbert, the president and chief executive officer of the Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber). “We have the highest percent of sovereign Native American tribes in one geographic location than anywhere in the country.” Many of the tribes have diverse business operations.

The Quapaw tribe has a couple of casinos in the area including the Downstream Casino Resort right along the tri-state border of Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Farm to table is alive and well in Miami! The Quapaws have launched several businesses that supply the food and beverage operations of the casino and resort. The Quapaw’s greenhouses supply fresh fruits and vegetables; they import coffee beans from South and Central America to roast, package and serve as Quapaw Nation branded coffee, and they also harvest honey to serve and sell to the public. The tribe also tends cattle and bison herds, and recently completed construction of a facility to process the meat to serve in their restaurants and sell commercially.

The Quapaw Tribe is working to fully diversify its business ventures, creating a wholly-owned supply chain for its gaming operations. Creating a complete vertically integrated organization not only diversifies the tribe’s business ventures, it has had a substantial impact on food security for the Quapaw people and the region.

“We benefit as a community and a region from tribes that are thinking in innovative ways, and who are doing business in many more diversified industry segments than just casino gaming,” says Gilbert.

There are a number of casinos in the area, and they continue to provide a positive economic impact in Miami and the region. Gilbert said, “When it comes to tribal gaming, Miami has a higher concentration of casinos and tribal resorts and hotels than anywhere in Oklahoma and probably the country. By that I mean, for a population of thirty thousand people, I estimate that we have one casino for every 2,200 people. Tribally owned hospitality and tourism venues provide jobs and make a significant economic impact. Plus, we enjoy world-class entertainment on a regular basis!”

For many years, the chamber of commerce was a separate entity from the local economic development corporation. Three years ago, forward-thinking community leaders decided it would be more efficient to combine the two into one organization called the Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber). The Chamber’s team is now working on rebuilding Miami’s brand and marketing their community assets to spur economic development.

Miami’s Progress Industrial Park is certified site ready by the state of Oklahoma. Progress Park’s rail spur is served by the Class I BNSF Railway. Miami has invested in a new 54,000-square-foot spec building to bring new industry, jobs and investment into the community. A primary goal of the Chamber is recruiting new jobs and investment to the region. Key to achieving this goal is keeping existing industries and helping them grow. Business retention and expansion is a major focus.

Another primary goal of the Chamber is to support small businesses and entrepreneurs. Approximately seventy percent of the Chamber’s members are small businesses. According to Gilbert, “About 30 years ago, BF Goodrich closed their tire manufacturing plant in Miami. They employed over 2,000 people and this factory’s closure was a major economic blow to the community.” In response, several far-sighted community leaders formed the Miami Area Economic Development Service (MAEDS). Today this private, non-profit economic development corporation continues doing business under the Chamber umbrella. “Over the years, MAEDS secured government grants to capitalize eight revolving loan funds,” says Gilbert. “We have around one million dollars available right now to make loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

When the new Chamber was formed, the Board of Directors envisioned a world-class headquarters facility to house the Chamber and to be a community resource and gathering place. With the challenge of achieving “world-class” in mind, Gilbert and the Chamber staff launched the search for a new facility. In December 2016 they purchased a downtown Main Street building, located on the famous Route 66. The historic and well-known former jewelry store building was gutted and renovated from top to bottom. The Chamber used local suppliers and contractors whenever possible. In September 2017, Miami Main celebrated its grand opening.

Miami Main has four primary functions – the Chamber’s new headquarters office, entrepreneur co-working space, a business incubator and community engagement space. For a nominal monthly fee, Miami Main co-working tenants have access to conference rooms, printing, high-speed internet and common areas where they can drink Quapaw Nation brand coffee, network and brainstorm with other small business owners and entrepreneurs. Private desk and office space are available for additional fees.

Miami Main was designed to host meetings and special events, and as creative space for excellent presentations and networking. The space is ideal for Miami Main’s business incubator programs and services. The Chamber offers a wide range of training programs and professional development classes relevant to small business owners and entrepreneurs. The Chamber partners with NEO A&M College and Northeast Technology Center for training and workforce development. “Miami Main gives people in our community and rural region a space to network and pitch business ideas. We are a place where small businesses and entrepreneurs can convene. We have programs and resources to help them strengthen their company or help them start their company and grow it,” says the Chamber’s Gilbert.

Miami is a tight-knit community with a strong sense of place. The Chamber is well known for its signature events conducted throughout the year. Chamber annual events include FestiFall Sidewalk Sale, Art Walk and Street Festival, seasonal Shop Local Campaigns, and the ever-popular Veteran’s and Christmas Parades to name a few.

Supporting community pride and sense of place, Miami Main is situated in the increasingly vibrant downtown Route 66 Cultural District and displays works of art and murals that depict the history of the region. Miami Main is planning a 2018 contest for local artists to paint a mural envisioning Miami’s future.

Springtime in Miami brings the annual Mural Fest 66 showcasing large scale building murals by Oklahoma Mural Syndicate artists. The Chamber partners with Miami’s Convention and Visitors Bureau on a variety of projects that strengthen the community’s attraction to residents and visitors alike! Gilbert says, “Miami’s ‘cool factor’ is on the rise, which is attractive to young professionals, entrepreneurs and creative people of all ages and types. Everyone is welcomed here.”

Agriculture and food processing is one of the leading industries in Miami and Northeast Oklahoma. One of the largest employers in the area, J-M Farms, grows and produces mushrooms and is a regional supplier of mushrooms to institutional customers and the retail grocery market. J-M Farms is a wonderful corporate partner that creates good jobs and a positive impact on the community’s economy.

Miami is also home to a cluster of plastics manufacturing companies that supply a wide range of consumer goods markets. Miami’s three large plastic manufacturing companies – Discovery Plastics, Scepter and Hopkins Manufacturing Corporation – are all significant employers in the area.

Miami’s industrial recruiting efforts target opportunities to diversify and expand its reach in the food and consumer goods manufacturing sectors. Among Miami’s many location advantages is an ample water supply, making it an attractive location for industries that use water in their manufacturing production process. Miami’s utility infrastructure is well established, with reliable, affordable public power generation from the Grand River Dam Authority and the local electric, water, sewer and solid waste utility provider, the City of Miami.

Young people are critical to our future. The Chamber manages Leadership Miami for adults, and also the Youth Leadership Miami program for high school juniors and seniors. Students in this one-year program spend one day per month learning about the community and its resources. The program is now expanding to implement a youth entrepreneur training program called CEO – Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities. CEO was founded by the Midland Institute.

The CEO Program targets high school seniors with a one year, for-credit, intensive training and experiential learning opportunity. For ninety minutes at the start of each school day, CEO students learn about small business and how to be an entrepreneur. Activities include a focused, hands-on curriculum, networking and learning directly from business leaders, successful entrepreneurs and mentors. They also venture out to business and manufacturing sites for firsthand workplace experiences.

“First semester, CEO students develop a group business plan for a Shark Tank-like event at the end of the semester, where the teams pitch their business plans for feedback and potential funding. Second semester, each student writes their own unique business plan and pitches their plan as their capstone senior year project in the spring,” says Gilbert. By 2019, the Chamber’s goal is to launch the local CEO program with at least thirty students participating in and benefiting from their entrepreneurial journey.

Miami receives a good amount of tourism for its casinos, resorts, rodeos, pow-wows, live entertainment and outdoor recreational activities. Miami is at the confluence of the Spring River and the Neosho River, which are both well-known for spawning the rare Spoonbill catfish – also known as the Paddlefish. Each spring during Spoonbill season, anglers from all over the country come here to catch the shark-like fish. Miami is only twenty-five minutes away from the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees, a recreational lake for resorts, boating, water skiing and fishing that has ample residential development encircling it.

Miami has a stretch of Route 66 called the Ribbon Road, a section of the original roadbed of old Route 66. People come from all over the world to travel the famous Route 66 and to see the Ribbon Road in particular.

Main Street, in downtown Miami on Route 66, is home to the historic Coleman Theatre Beautiful, built in the late 1920s vaudeville era. The dilapidated building was renovated and restored to its original authentic style. It still has the original Wurlitzer pipe organ and crystal chandelier from 1929, and visitors get the sensation of traveling back in time when entering the front doors (see colemantheatre.org).

Buildings along Route 66 in downtown’s cultural art district are covered in murals. “We have this great little corridor on Route 66. We have some really neat buildings, excellent venues and a great mix of stores. We strive to preserve and make our little downtown Main Street area a place where art, innovation and creativity thrive,” says Gilbert.

The Chamber has crafted a rich mix of programs, resources and services to support small business and entrepreneurs in the Miami region, and continue growth and development of the community. Gilbert says that, ultimately, “We are trying to retain and expand jobs; we are trying to increase capital investment, and we are trying to enhance our quality of life and our sense of place.”

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