, Muskogee, OK

November 17, 2012

Official’s claim on workers’ comp disputed

He says it can deter business from relocating; others say many factors in play

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Labor Commissioner Mark Costello argues the state’s adversarial system for workers’ compensation discourages businesses from relocating to Oklahoma.

Costello says other employers could be driven away if an overhaul is not completed.

One economic development expert and a local business owner, however, say the issue is just one of many factors considered by employers who are planning to relocate or expand.

Brien Thorstenberg, economic development director for the Muskogee City-County Port Authority, said the workers’ compensation system is “a liability for the state.” But typically, Thorstenberg said, it “is never just one factor that comes into play.”

Although workers’ compensation may be a consideration, Thorstenberg said, it is one of several factors considered when employers weigh the cost of doing business in Oklahoma. And the cost of doing business, in Thorstenberg’s estimation, ranks second to the availability of a skilled workforce.

Other factors Thorstenberg considers important among business owners and chief executives include, in descending order:

• Transportation and accessibility.

• The business climate as it relates to local and state governments.

• The availability of buildings or shovel-ready sites with an infrastructure already in place.

“Where it comes in on my end, it usually is a consultant or a company representative who looks at absolute costs as it compares to moving here,” Thorstenberg said. “It is an overall comparison rather than what type of workers’ compensation system is in place.”

Dan Morris, president and chief executive officer of Muskogee-based Advantage Controls, said workers’ compensation costs are “just a part of doing business in Oklahoma.” Advantage Controls, which was formed in 1994, employs about 125 workers who manufacture industrial water treatment controllers, pumps and accessories.

“From my perspective and, I think, a lot of others’, this is where we live,” said Morris, who also serves as the chairman of the Greater Muskogee Manufacturers Alliance. “We just make do with what we have — this is our home and where we started our business.”

Although Morris has no plans of relocating, he said he agrees shifting from an adversarial to an administrative workers’ compensation system would be an improvement.

“The important thing is this is something we can effect change on at a state level, and I’m all for that,” Morris said. “There are very few things we can control at the state level, and if we can make it more advantageous by changing the workers’ comp system we should do it.”

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or