Business Tour 2013

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Local employers are a major bedrock of the economic vitality of communities in Western Oklahoma. A high point of my year is visiting the district’s major employers and getting a sense of their needs to increase and protect the jobs available in our communities. This year’s tour of the businesses and major employers of the district included Kingfisher Public Schools, Chisholm Trail Technology Center, Cimarron Electric Co-Op, Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Mountain Country Foods, the US Gypsum Company, OEM Systems and Temtrol.

I began my tour with a visit to the Kingfisher school district on September 30. The district employs 155 certified teachers and 65 support staff members and has high school graduation and ACT participation rates that are more than 10 percent above the state average. The school administrators shared with me their concerns and I hope to lend their voice to the discussion of education policy at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

On October 1, I visited another education institution, the Chisholm Trail Technology Center. I was impressed with what they have to offer students and struck by the high ACT scores of the student body. These are not young men and women who did not have the option to go to college, but instead students whose specific career path was better served by the technology center. Both the school district and career tech center are critical to helping our district maintain a labor force that supports larger employers and specialized industries.

According to the United States Census, Kingfisher has a labor force of about 2,327 individuals, 109 of which are unemployed. I visited two major Kingfisher-based employers on October 7. The Pioneer Telephone Cooperative in Kingfisher provides jobs to more than 500 individuals statewide and more than 350 at its Kingfisher headquarters. It is the third largest telephone cooperative in the United States. The Cimarron Electric Cooperative employs another 50 individuals and was the first rural electric cooperative formed in Oklahoma. The company today serves more than 15,000 customers in Central and Western Oklahoma. Through talking with these two employers, I learned that they are most concerned about the rising cost of health insurance. The telephone cooperative, with so many employees, is especially vulnerable to the rising cost of providing insurance for their employees. They are also concerned about federal government regulations and FCC rulings.

The next leg of my tour took place in Okeene, where I visited Mountain Country Foods on October 15. I learned that each week this company ships more than 150,000 pounds of dog treats and biscuits to distributors throughout the United States. This family-owned business is a great Oklahoma and American story. They also employ over 160 folks and many have been there for years.

Next, I visited US Gypsum Company in Southard on October 17. The company’s plant manager told me that they provide the coating for common pills available at your local pharmacy such as aspirin. The company employs more than 150 employees in Blaine County and adjacent counties.

The last stop of my trip was Okarche on October 21. The city has a labor force of 665, of which six are unemployed, but the two companies I visited draw employees from throughout Kingfisher County. OEM systems provides 60 individuals with employment and Temtrol employs 350. OEM systems play a major role in the CNG business. They build and apply these conversion kits to many businesses and city vehicles throughout the state. Temtrol may be the state’s best kept secrets. They build air conditioning units and ship them all over the USA. What impressed me the most was that the employees there have been there for 15, 20, 25 years in some cases. This is a sign of a great company.

The employers of the district generally were concerned about rising insurance rates, maintaining an adequate labor force, the availability of affordable housing for their workers, and overburdensome government regulation.

These great companies in Northwestern Oklahoma provide a way of life for thousands of Oklahoma families. All of these fine businesses play a critical role in our state’s economy and I plan to do everything I can to keep the government off their backs and do whatever is necessary to help expand these companies. I am honored to represent these companies. I cannot thank them enough for the welcome and positive response they gave me.

I invite you to contact me regarding my business tour and to provide input on any other topic you wish to discuss. As always, I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407 or mike.sanders@okhouse.gov.

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