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Getting down to business

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday January 10, 2011

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As Mary Fallin has prepared to take the oath of office of governor, we heard a familiar refrain:  "We need to create a more business-friendly state."  Oklahoma is not alone in facing economic problems and concerns about jobs.  How to promote economic growth and retain and create jobs is the challenge facing the new Fallin administration and other state leaders. 

This week on Oklahoma Forum, we talked to three leaders of the state's business community to learn more about what they think should be done on Main Street and Lincoln Boulevard to push Oklahoma's economy forward.  Our guests were Fred Morgan, President and CEO of The State Chamber of Oklahoma; Roy Williams, President and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; and Mike Neal, President of the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

So, what makes a state business-friendly?  It's a combination of factors, including tax policy, infrastructure, workforce, image, and quality of life.  And more.  It's interesting to note that Forbes magazine ranked Oklahoma as the 20th best state for business and careers in 2009, but only 33rd in 2010.  Forbes ranked Oklahoma 7th in economic climate, which was an improvement from 9th in 2009, but a couple other factors dragged the state down. 

In 2010, Forbes ranked Oklahoma's labor supply as 41st and its quality of life 41st (down from 38th in 2009), which resulted in an overall business prospects ranking of 50.  Yes, 50 - last in the U.S.  That has to be distressing, given all the work that has been done in and out of state government to improve the state's business attractiveness in the last several years. 

Roy Williams made news last December when he told reporters at the Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers' joint presentation that the state's image has also suffered from certain policies, including immigration policy.  Williams said that Oklahoma often doesn't appear on potential business expansion lists because of laws or comments made by state legislators and that are considered "extreme" by others in the business community.  Neal added that image is a huge issue for site selection executives.  Williams and Neal explained their comments on the program.

The three guests had similar solutions for the state's economic issues, including workers compensation and lawsuit reform and tax policy.  Education and health are also big issues.  One national publication ranked Oklahoma City the 5th worst place to live among major cities in August, 2010.  The publication cited Oklahoma City's sedentary lifestyles, obesity, high cardiovascular disease and overall lack of fitness for the poor ranking.  Oklahoma's workforce is not as capable as it should be to attract certain high-skill, high-wage jobs, and without those jobs, a large percentage of the state's citizens will continue to live in poverty.  About one in six Oklahomans currently lives below the poverty line.

I invite you to go to the web sites for the three chambers and check out their agenda for the coming year.  Much of it is familiar, but some of the proposals may surprise you.  It is interesting to note that for the first time, the three chambers have come together to present a unified jobs agenda that translates over most of the state, including rural areas.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor

(Pictures above, left to right:  Host Dick Pryor, Fred Morgan, Roy Williams.  Mike Neal is not pictured.)


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