MIO Coalition uses matching government funding to push beyond state borders

The Made in Oklahoma Coalition started with a pretty simple idea: It should be easy for Oklahomans to buy Oklahoma-made products. And the best way to make that happen is for state producers to work together.

“The coalition started with six companies. This year, we have 61 companies,” said Oklahoma Department of Agriculture market development coordinator Barbara Charlet.

The criteria for membership is simple. The Made in Oklahoma Coalition is for food products with some of their production or processing done in the state.

Companies pay annual membership dues, and that funding, along with money MIO receives through the State Legislature, helps market their products, Charlet said.

The Department of Agriculture isn’t selling MIO products, but it is helping raise awareness, Charlet said.

“The state has been really super about helping us with what they call pass-through funding,” she said.

MIO companies match state funds three-to-one to pay for marketing efforts that promote the companies.

“One thing we emphasize is the economic impact the companies make on the state,” Charlet said. “They are superior quality, price-competitive and it keeps their neighbor in a job.”

That’s what they call the “multiplier effect,” she said.

“They do business here, they pay taxes here, many of them buy packaging materials here and many of their inputs come from in the state as well,” Charlet said. “The payroll makes a big impact.”

Each year, the coalition gets an economic impact analysis from Oklahoma State University. In 2016, the companies in MIO provided 65,500 jobs and sales in excess of $4 billion.

“Many of the sales, about 85 percent, are outside the state,” Charlet said, “but all those checks come back to the state.”

It’s not instantaneous, though.

“That’s what we tell our new members. Think they’ll start shipping to north Texas right away, but we try to encourage them to build slowly,” she said. “We want them to get markets and distribution established in the state before they start branching out into other states.”

Start small and then expand, she said. That’s how to build solid, well-run companies that will endure. When they have a foothold in Oklahoma, the coalition can help expand marketing across the country and around the world.

But much of MIO’s efforts stay in Oklahoma, marketing wares to grocers and consumers.

“For a small company joining MIO, membership can take away years of work forming relationships and making preparations,” said Total Beverage Services national sales manager David Boswell. “They get the benefits of pre-existing relationships with small and regional retailers.”

It’s also helpful for companies with small advertising budgets to go in with more established businesses to buy ads they couldn’t afford on their own.

When Boswell joined, most people hadn’t heard of MIO.

“You had your big names, like Bar-S, Griffin Foods or Shawnee Milling Company, but those are big businesses,” he said.

Now, the coalition helps market niche brands, including Seikel’s Oklahoma Gold Old Style Mustard and Woody Candy Company alongside bigger names like Bedré Fine Chocolate and Schwab Meat Co.

Having the MIO label can open opportunities for  placement on shelves in grocery stores of all sizes or a deal with local restaurant groups to use their products. Its website lists nearly 100 restaurants that use Made in Oklahoma products. Visit miocoalition.com.

Print headline: Okie made, MIO Coalition uses matching government funding to push beyond state borders.

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