New Governors' Agendas 2011: Mary Fallin, Oklahoma
In January, new governors were inaugurated in 26 states. As the nation continues to deal with a slowly improving economy, these governors have their work cut out for them. Area Development's editor recently asked the new governors what businesses in their states could expect regarding resources, regulatory changes, and tax and financial incentives.
What resources will your administration leverage in order to attract businesses to your state?
Fallin: We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, one of the best work force development pipelines, unequaled natural resources, an unwavering work ethic, and the ability to establish results-driven partnerships. These will enable Oklahoma to move forward. Oklahoma continues to offer a strong housing market, competitive business costs, affordable living, and one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation. However, it is our people that are our biggest strength and our true advantage.
Which particular industry sectors would be well served by your state's resources?
Fallin: Oklahoma has several core industries we target for growth, like aerospace, energy (both traditional and renewable), and advanced manufacturing. We are also home to emerging, 21st-century technologies like bioscience, nanotech, and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
In today's economic environment, what is your administration's policy on financial incentives to business?
Fallin: Our competitive incentives programs are essential in attracting these jobs to Oklahoma. That's why incentives like the Quality Jobs Program/New Jobs Tax Credit are so critical. The program has a proven track record - thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in payroll - since its inception in the early 1990s. To remain a top-tier state, Oklahoma must continue developing pro-business incentives.
For example, aerospace has long been a vital sector in Oklahoma. Currently, more than one in 10 Oklahomans get their income from the aerospace industry, and the average annual salary in aerospace is 88 percent above the state average. The Aerospace Industry Engineer Work Force Bill was established to give tax credits for engineers going to work for Oklahoma companies and for companies that hire Oklahoma engineering graduates. Last year, the state legislature voted to put it on moratorium for two years. However, I am pushing this year to lift that moratorium and let our state aerospace companies pursue the most talented people we can get to fill these jobs in Oklahoma. This demonstrates our continued commitment to the aerospace industry and at the same time helps ensure that our best and our brightest minds remain in Oklahoma. (Editor's Note: After this article was published, Fallin signed into law a measure to reestablish tax credits for engineers working for Oklahoma aerospace companies, as well as the companies themselves.)
As part of my agenda, I'm also seeking the creation of a Governor's Closing Fund so that my administration will have the tools necessary to "close the deal" with industries seeking to relocate or expand operations in Oklahoma.
Are there any changes in your state's tax and/or regulatory code that you are proposing in order to encourage business development?
Fallin: To move our state forward, we will pursue an aggressive, pro-jobs, pro-growth, and pro-business agenda to let the rest of the nation know that "Oklahoma is open for business." We must make business recruitment and retention the cornerstone of that plan. By creating the best business climate possible, we can retain and expand jobs in Oklahoma and grow the economy.
We can achieve this by reducing the costs of doing business in Oklahoma through reforming our workers' compensation system; pursuing legal reforms to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits; getting government and legal hurdles out of the way of private-sector growth; and retaining jobs and businesses here while attracting new ones.
Do you plan to undertake any specific education initiatives to encourage business to locate and remain in your state?
Fallin: There is nothing more important to our future and our long-term prosperity than education. It is the cornerstone of a prosperous society, and we must do better in Oklahoma. I have an objective to see this state raise the bar in education, work force training, certification, and recruitment. Wealth creation is rooted in knowledge-based economies and knowledge-based economies are rooted in the education of our citizens.