OKLAHOMA CITY — The workforce is a top priority for business leaders, according to the state chamber — and it’s a top priority for Oklahoma lawmakers heading into the 2023 legislative session.
The state chamber held its Public Affairs Forum 2022 Tuesday at the Oklahoma City Convention Center. Speakers included Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka; Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Tritt, R-Oklahoma City; House Minority Leader Cindy Munson, Oklahoma City; and Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City.
The state chamber conducts a survey of business leaders in Oklahoma each year, and the latest survey revealed what state leaders should be doing to help businesses, according to Chad Warmington, president and CEO of the state chamber.
“More than 60% of respondents said the number one issue facing their business, the biggest threat to their business being able and competitive in Oklahoma, was the workforce,” Warmington said.
“Oklahoma has the talent, the employers and the conditions … a state that companies are moving to because of our workforce conditions,” Warmington said.
McCall said the unemployment rate remains low, but businesses are still struggling to find qualified, skilled workers. During the 2023 session, lawmakers will focus on “strategic investments” in workforce needs and tax reform.
Oklahoma has the fourth-lowest corporate income tax in the nation, but still ranks 23rd in overall tax policy, McCall said.
McCall said the Legislature will make targeted investments in health care, education and economic development projects next year, and will help businesses that are already growing here in the state.
“It’s easier for the state to support existing industry than to attract new ones,” McCall said.
Some social policies and political “culture wars” are negatively affecting the workforce, Munson said. Hardline political positions, such as Oklahoma’s near-total ban on abortion, hurt the state’s ability to attract businesses, Monson said.
“As we grow our economy in Oklahoma, we must be ready to welcome a diverse workforce,” Munson said. “If we want CEOs to bring their businesses and their employees to our state, we must demonstrate an ability to embrace and celebrate all people.”
Floyd said the education system produces the nation’s future workforce, but teachers are leaving the profession in droves. The 2021-22 school year saw a record number of emergency certifications to fill vacant teacher positions — 3,914 — Floyd said.
“It’s a workforce issue; we need to understand why we’re losing so many teachers,” Floyd said.
Monson said a former Teacher of the Year quit “not because of the pay but because of the lack of respect for her profession,” noting that many of the statements at the state capitol building during the last session “targeted them. Back “
“The pandemic has highlighted one of the biggest barriers for our employees to enter and stay in the workforce, and that is access to affordable child care,” Monson said.
Nearly 65% of Oklahomans live in a “child care desert” without enough providers to meet the needs of the local workforce, Floyd said. Of the 77 counties in Oklahoma, 34 are considered “child care deserts,” and the issue affects rural and urban counties alike.
Child care has been shown to provide a $1.7 billion impact on the state’s economy, Floyd said.
Floyd said criminal justice reform could also benefit the workforce system.
“When these people get out of prison, they join the workforce,” Floyd said. “We’re losing a portion of our workforce by not facilitating the transition from prison.”