In a SoonerPoll taken in early May, 500 plus Oklahomans were asked the reason only 40.4% of Oklahoma’s population of 3.75 million population is working. 26.7% of the respondents cited ‘lack of job opportunities’ as the reason. Interestingly the polling responses didn’t have a partisan twist- meaning both Democrats and Republicans recognized that lack of job opportunities is a major issue in the state.
If you ask your friends and neighbors where their kids and grandkids are living most will say out of state. Their kids didn’t leave the state because they hated Oklahoma- they left for job opportunities. For years we have exported our best and brightest because meaningful jobs were not here when they completed their education.
Because there were limited job opportunities, Oklahoma college graduates fled like the Okies in a Model A during the dust bowl. And who could blame them. When the average Oklahoman was earning $5,000 less per year than a person in Texas doing the same job, it’s hard not to justify living 300 miles south.
For almost a century, the liberal controlled Oklahoma legislature did everything possible to hurt businesses by taxing everything that wasn’t nailed down. Oklahoma had high workers comp rates, no right-to-work law, and ‘jackpot justice.’ tort. No major company would seriously consider Oklahoma for relocation and existing Oklahoma businesses often left the state to seek friendlier confines. It was as if a CLOSED sign was hung on Oklahoma’s door to business.
Thankfully that is changing. The most recent Oklahoma state legislature and Governor Fallin deserves an A+ for addressing two impediments to recruiting business to Oklahoma. This session they passed meaningful lawsuit reform and they revamped the workers comp system. That will help existing Oklahoma businesses be more competitive. It will also help to recruit business to the state. Don’t expect it to change overnight because we didn’t get here overnight, but the Sooner state has a lot going for it.
Oklahoma is centrally located geographically, has a mild climate (never mind the current heat wave), hard working people and sits at the crossroads of two major interstates- I40 &I35. Oklahoma should be the distribution center capital of America. Retail and manufacturing goods have to be transported and with diesel fuel at all time highs, freight is a big factor. In time that may come to past because the 2011 removed some obstacles to job development in Oklahoma. It’s now up to state and local leaders to follow up by selling Oklahoma to out of state businesses for relocation. Oklahoma is open for business.
Steve Fair is a guest political analyst and commentator at SoonerPoll.com. Steve is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party and the author of the popular blog Fair and Biased.