Twelve of Enid’s top 15 employers started their companies in the city, and Brent Kisling doesn’t want to see that momentum stop.

“We are an entrepreneurship town,” said Kisling, executive director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance.

In 1900, Enid had more people than Tulsa. People moved to Tulsa for the oil boom and the northeastern Oklahoma metro invested in its infrastructure and universities. The population surpassed Enid’s and continued to expand. Today, Tulsa has about 403,000 people; Enid has 51,000.

Kisling said some of Enid’s growth was stifled by private property rights, which are important to the agriculture-heavy area. Commodities are important to the city’s economy, so growth in farming was happening naturally but other industries were stagnant.

“But now we’re getting aggressive about (encouraging entrepreneurship),” said Kisling.

He spoke Wednesday at the monthly Oklahoma Venture Forum luncheon, held at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center’s PHF Conference Center.

One of the entrepreneurs who started in the Panhandle but now has an operation in Enid is No Man’s Land Beef Jerky. The chairman of the board of directors, Pete Dillingham, also spoke at the luncheon.

Dillingham and his partners, Clint Beagley and Paul Allen, invested in the company in 2015. Beagley and Dillingham worked together at AdvancePierre Foods, so they were familiar with the food production business.

No Man’s Land started in 1997 at a Boise City grocery store. Brett Smith used 14 dehydrators to make the product, which sold out daily. He moved it to another store in Boise City and continued to have exponential sales growth. But they were out of room and manpower by the time Dillingham and his team invested. The Smith family had to work every day to keep up with demand.

The company had $2.7 million in sales at the time of the transaction, with 180 customers. Dillingham and his partners helped the company move operations to a former food manufacturing plant in Enid. Now the company is one of the top 15 beef jerky makers nationwide. And as diets focusing on protein get more followers, the demand for a healthy protein-based snack is growing.

In May, the company had $1 million in sales for the month. Year-to-date sales are up 42 percent and there are 948 retail customers nationwide.

“There are very few customers who drop the product,” he said.

The company is making a move to Amazon. It already has online sales through its own website.

Kisling said the city has multiple avenues to help get more businesses like that started. The Autry Technology Center offers entrepreneurship classes and hosts an annual business plan competition. The winner gets a $10,000 prize and space in the center’s business incubator.

The city has a $5 million angel fund, which he said helps satisfy the capital demand for startup companies.

There’s also a Northwest Hires initiative. One of its programs is coordinating teacher tours, where young people can see the job opportunities available in the area.

“It’s easier to convince someone from Laverne to stay in Laverne than to try to hire someone from Houston,” Kisling said.

Story provided by:  The Journal Record

Story written by:  Molly Fleming