The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 24, 2014

Chamber chief: Get involved

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The president and CEO of the State Chamber, an organization that lobbies Oklahoma legislators on behalf of business in the state, encouraged Enid business leaders to get involved Monday.

The State Chamber, Fred Morgan said, only does one thing.

“And that’s represent the statewide business community in the Legislature to create a better business climate,” he said.

That includes representing more than 1,000 businesses employing 300,000 employees; most of those are small businesses, he said.

Oklahoma’s Legislature each year considers about 2,000 bills, and the State Chamber is tasked with monitoring those.

“They’re asked to be experts on all of those subjects each year. So they can’t. It’s not designed that way,” he said.

As the lobbying entity focused on business, the State Chamber is responsible for taking sides on issues that impact those businesses.

“We tell them what the business community expects from the Legislature, what they need from the Legislature, and we educate them,” said Morgan. “They do not hear from people enough. They do not hear from business leaders enough.”

The State Chamber also recruits candidates to run for office and provides information on how the Legislature and the courts handle bills and cases the organization has taken a stance on.

Most recently, Morgan said, the State Chamber worked to pass workers’ compensation reform, which now has administrative hearings instead of court proceedings to determine compensation for injured workers.

“That hopefully will help take out some of the adversarial relationship of the employers and employees,” said Morgan, who spoke Monday to Enid Rotary Club.

He also discussed tax incentives. Some people, he said, refer to incentives as “corporate welfare.”

“There are a lot of communities that wouldn’t have the jobs they have today if it weren’t for some of these tax incentives,” said Morgan.

Not all incentives work, though, he said.

“It should always result in jobs. They should always be analyzed,” Morgan said. “There are probably some tax incentives that aren’t working as well as they should.”

He said requiring the Legislature to regularly re-examine those incentives and credits is a good idea.

“But they are doing a valuable service,” he said. “In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have incentives. We’re working against Arkansas. We’re working against Texas.”

The State Chamber also supports lowering the personal income tax and repealing the franchise tax.

Of all the issues faced by Oklahoma business, Morgan said the No. 1 problem is finding good workers.

“And it’s every level,” not just highly specialized and trained employees, he said. “The good news is we’re not the only state. We’ve got to look at what business is going to need. It all boils down to education.”

One industry he says that needs a push is manufacturing. The problem there is it’s not thought of as a glamorous or viable career field.

“Manufacturing is alive and well in this country,” said Morgan. “It’s not low-skilled anymore — if you’re running a machine in a manufacturing plant, you’ve got to know something about a computer.”