Relations of State, Business Enter New Era of Cooperation in Planning to Diversify

Article excerpt

The transition of Oklahoma from an ideology of a strong separation between business and government to more cooperation in economic development has been uneasy at best, despite the heavy government investment in projects such as air bases.

The Oklahoma Constitution was written with a suspicion of big business. Also, the state's top industries of energy and agriculture long have voiced concerns about "keeping government off our backs" while lobbying for government incentives.

Now, with Oklahoma Futures producing a state five-year economic development plan, we have seen hundreds of recommendations requiring a closer relationship between government and business in planning, education, financing, tourism, research, contracts, job training and leadership.

It took a five-year recession for us to reach this early stage of a new cooperative thinking in our effort to diversify the economy. However, while some of us may feel the results have been slow in coming, evidently our struggle is natural.

The United States in general has grappled with the same transition, with regions going through their own crisis at different times, says Prof. George C. Lodge, a specialist in government-business relations at the Harvard Business School.

"There is a peculiar mind set that one sees in the United States regarding the roles and relations of government and business," said Lodge, who will address a seminar sponsored by the RAM Group Ltd. on Business's Obligation to Relate to Governments on April 20 at the Lincoln Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.

"Every so often, a crisis comes along - forcing an inspection of these old assumptions," said Lodge in a telephone interview. "Oklahoma, which has been hard hit by energy and agriculture problems, evidently has gone through such a crisis.

"When that happens, the changes that follow often require a tremendous amount of waste and cost."

What Lodge does is identify these old assumptions - how we got them, their effects on our society and, how they have changed in spite of our ideas.

"I have grown to believe," said Lodge, "that the cost of transition can be reduced if the mind set is made explicit. If we can reveal it, instead of fudging it, people can deal with it rationally.

"I try to help people understand the mind set. They have the choice of keeping it or rejecting it. If they don't know we have the mind set, there is a feeling of helplessness."

During the last 15 years, said Lodge, the most dramatic crisis of U.S. business have been the ecological problems of waste, water, air and the environment, plus the competition from Japanese industry in manufacturing items such as semiconductors, telecommunications and autos.

"The ecological problems required a basic re-evaluation of the roles and relations of government and business," he said. "The Japanese competition laid waste to much of our manufacturing.

"At the heart were old mind sets of the ways in which business should function in areas such as the capital markets and labor relations along with the role of government."

Eventually, Lodge said we have three choices:

- The crisis gradually kills our institutions or businesses.

- We are forced to leave the playing field.

- We are forced to change to meet the new conditions.

"We have to do something," he said, "or let the old mind sets stand in the way."

While Lodge has not been to Oklahoma and professes no expertise on this state's specific problems, he sees the five-year recession and current diversification efforts as steps in a logical sequence. …