News Column

Report Details Oklahoma's Business Climate

Feb 8, 2013

Mark Schlachtenhaufen

Oklahoma continues to lag behind other states in the areas of workers' compensation, education and health care, according to a new report.

The recently-released 2013 Accountability for a Competitive Economic (ACE) book, published by the State Chamber Research Foundation, is a snapshot of Oklahoma's business climate compared to that of other states. It examined business climate and competitiveness, economic development, innovation and technology, workforce development and infrastructure.

State Chamber Research Foundation President Fred Morgan said that by analyzing how Oklahoma is performing in these arenas, leaders can focus their efforts in areas where improvement is needed and acknowledge areas of accomplishment.

Morgan said his organization's 2013 goal is to reinforce the positives that make Oklahoma great and work to change negatives that prevent progress.

Positives include Oklahoma's low unemployment rate, its No. 1 ranking among the states in cost of living and its No. 4 ranking in the cost of doing business, according to the 2013 ACE book. The state ranks second for percentage of job growth and seventh overall in support of economic freedom.

Perhaps more importantly than recognizing positives, leaders must acknowledge the areas where Oklahoma is lagging behind and work to improve in them, Morgan said.

Earlier this week during her 2013 State of the State address to lawmakers, Gov. Mary Fallin said Oklahoma is strong in part due to its small business owners and its innovators in oil and gas production, farming and ranching, bioscience and medicine and aerospace and aviation.

Barriers to growth, the governor said, include excessive workers' compensation costs. Fallin said she has asked the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to develop a state plan to help take its economy to the next level.

"I want to focus our state on industries that have the greatest potential for wealth generation and job growth," Fallin told lawmakers.

Data shows that aerospace and defense, energy, agriculture and biosciences, information and financial services, and transportation and distribution offer the greatest potential to raise income levels and create better jobs, Fallin said.

In response, Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage offered a different point of view.

"The governor did a good job of delivering a speech that had a few bad ideas in it," Burrage said.

They include the call for a reduction in the state income tax from 5.25 to 5 percent without a way to pay for it, Burrage said. He said he also didn't hear how much it would cost, and that it would divert revenue from roads, bridges and education. Currently, education funding is a disappointing $200 million below 2009 levels, Burrage said.

According to the State Chamber, state spending on education ranks 33rd when compared to personal income, but 48th when per pupil spending is compared to the rest of the nation. Education is an economic development driver in Oklahoma, Morgan said.

According to the State Chamber, Oklahoma experiences almost double the number of permanent partial disability workers' compensation claims than every other state in the region and more than double the national average. This results in higher costs for Oklahoma business owners.

Health care continues to strain business budgets, and uncertainty tied to the looming implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is only compounding the issue, according to the 2013 ACE book.

Oklahoma ranked fourth in the nation in percentage of residents without health insurance, which means higher premiums for every business and health care consumer in the state.

Mike Seney, executive director of the State Chamber Research Foundation, said it is vital that business leaders, legislators, state officials and the public know where Oklahoma excels and where it need to focus efforts to improve.

"These issues directly impact Oklahoma businesses' bottom lines," Seney said.

Source: (c)2013 The Edmond Sun (Edmond, Okla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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