Fallin and Lopez unveil optimistic business survey, applaud Google expansion

This week at the state Capitol, Governor Mary Fallin joined Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez and designers of a survey of business leaders to celebrate findings that can only be characterized as indicating great optimism among key private sector decision makers.

Lopez told reporters survey results show Oklahomans in the entrepreneurial class are “far ahead of national projections in the essential areas of business optimism.” Specifically, 78 percent of the nearly 5,400 business leaders who participated in the online survey, designed by Reliant, described themselves as optimistic abou the future of business in Oklahoma – including confidence their own businesses will grow.

Additionally, 37 percent of the executives (ranging from small employers to the state’s biggest firms) expect to hire additional workers within the next year (compared to 28 percent in national surveys). Perhaps most significantly, 69 percent plan to expand their workforces over the next three years. 
Most new jobs are created from existing businesses, giving some heft to the assessment of Oklahoma’s business people. 
There are some limits to the utility of the data, in that participants were self-selected, going online to complete the lengthy questionnaire. However, people from all 77 counties participated. Lopez and his colleagues estimated the companies that participated represented 20 percent of the state’s total workforce.

A summary prepared by Commerce staff asserted, “The margin of error for questions in the report ranges from 0.9 percent to 1.6 percent, which is a 95 percent confidence interval. Percentages of respondents are similar to state breakdowns for industry, number of employees and geographic dispersion.”

In a sometimes lively exchange with reporters, Lopez said the data and the representativeness of the sample can be developed over time to provide a running assessment of business leadership sentiment. 

The surveyed leaders said access to supplies, quality of higher education, CareerTech workforce prep programs, highly affordable housing in the state and recreational opportunities for workers were among the state’s positives. 

Workers compensation costs remain a concern for the business leaders, who also say they want business incentives and public funding to remain in place – the latter a potential challenge for policymakers who also want to keep expenditures limited. 

Governor Fallin applauded the results in a 15-minute address, touting among other things the creation of four new positions in the workers compensation court. The full Commerce Department survey and other information is online at FallinForBusiness.com.

The same morning as the Commerce data was released, Fallin and Lopez welcomed officials with Google to celebrate the worldwide information firm’s decision to roughly double its capacity and eventually its workforce at the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Mayes County. 

The facility will go from 100 workers to more than 150. Fallin said, “Google’s decision to increase the size of their data center in Mayes County highlights the attractiveness of our state as a place to invest and do business.  As a global company recognized for creating innovative online tools that help businesses and individuals succeed, Google has found a technical workforce with a strong work ethic in Oklahoma, one equal to the task of operating their data center in Pryor. Moreover, Google’s substantial investment, one of the largest in our state’s history at more than $700 million, represents a major step in further diversifying our state’s economy and ensuring Oklahoma plays a large role in the ever-emerging tech industry.”

Joining Fallin and Lopez for the announcement were Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman of Sapulpa and House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee. Legislators from the Mayes County area attended, including Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage of Claremore and Reps. Chuck Hoskin of Vinita and Ben Sherrer of Pryor Creek. 

Representing Google were Mike Wooten, the data center operations manager, and Alex Abelin of the firm’s executive team. Google plans to add a number of amenities at the site. The site will continue to operate “24/7” to support Google’s worldwide systems. 

In a brief exchange with CapitolBeatOK, the Google executives noted the Oklahoma site is the only one in their company with a mechanical bull onsite for occasional employee recreational time.