CEOs rate OK as go-to state

In Chief Executive’s seventh annual report on the best and worst states in which to do business, Oklahoma moved up eight places to No. 11. Of all 50 states, we Sooners posted the biggest gains over the last five years, moving up 20 places from the bottom half to just one-step off of the top 10.

More than 500 CEOs ranked the states on taxation and regulation, workforce quality, and standard of living. On a zero to 10-point scale with 10 being great, Oklahoma posted 6.73, 7.24, and 7.34, respectively. Overall, Texas was first on the leader board with 8’s or better; California was last, driven way down by CEO’s feelings about the state’s taxation and regulations.

Surveys and rankings like this matter.

The competition between states for businesses and for qualified workers — especially in advanced technology companies — is fierce. Match recent census data to state growth in GDP, and you begin to see that people are moving to states where the odds of finding a job are higher and the standard of living is more favorable. In terms of net migration, Oklahoma is about flat and near the middle of the pack. Texas, which created a quarter of a million jobs last year, is No. 1.

But the word about Oklahoma is getting out.

Three years ago, AAA Insurance moved out of California to Oklahoma. The president and CEO of the AAA regional holding company said nice words about our state’s work ethic and business friendliness — and sang the praises of Oklahoma legislation that provides incentives to employers through rebates of some payroll costs. AAA in Oklahoma has expanded to 825 jobs and foresees more growth.

We usually write about the job creation that comes from startup companies because over the last 20 years, that’s been the source of most net new jobs in the U.S. However, it’s also great when established companies like AAA Insurance and Boeing choose to move to their business or programs into Oklahoma.

Not only do established companies bring jobs, revenue streams, and experienced employees, many large firms have cut costs and improved operating margins during this recession. This means that as their confidence in economic recovery grows, they have the cash — billions of dollars in the aggregate — to invest in expansion and innovation in places like Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Lawton.

Oklahoma is doing many things right. We need to continue to learn from other states what does and doesn’t work, and then act in our own best interest to find the right mix of incentives to attract new and established businesses to our state.

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