Greater Oklahoma City Chamber - Rethinking Oklahoma: State needs more technology-focused companies

Rethinking Oklahoma: State needs more technology-focused companies

Friday, September 15, 2017

by Molly Fleming

Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – Paycom Software Inc. founder and CEO Chad Richison wants more technology-focused companies to grow in Oklahoma. He said the more technology-related businesses a state has, the easier it is to attract others in the same field.

He’s even interested in putting his own money into a venture.

“If someone was looking to start a tech company, they’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than Oklahoma,” he said. “We’re almost under selling it.”

But to get Oklahoma to see itself as a technology-business state, Richison said, will take some rethinking. He said Oklahomans have been told their entire lives that their good at football and they’re great in the energy business, so they excel in both.

This month, Paycom attracted national attention to Oklahoma when it was named No. 2 on Fortune magazine’s 2017 Fastest-Growing Companies list. As the only Oklahoma-based company on the list, that means no oil-related businesses were growing as fast as Paycom.

Paycom provides cloud-based human-resources management software. It serves clients nationwide.

Oklahoma City-based Paycom was listed above Facebook and Amazon, other technology-related companies. This is the first year the company was eligible to be considered.

The company’s highlights include $329.1 million in revenue, which is a 46 percent increase compared with 2015. In the last three years, Paycom had a compound annual growth rate of 45 percent.

University of Central Oklahoma Economics Department Chairman Jeremy Oller said he is concerned no energy companies were on the list, but he doesn’t think missing the list is a red flag.

“The red flag has already been up,” Oller said. “With oil and gas prices as low as they’ve been – for a few years now – we’re seeing the results of the troubling times.”

Oklahoma City University Meinders School of Business Dean Steve Agee said he’s not surprised the list is without energy companies.

“(Fortune) is measuring growth companies,” he said. “The oil and gas industry is in a steady state. They’re not growing rapidly, but not declining rapidly. That’s, of course, predicated upon commodity prices.”

Agee checked the New York Mercantile Exchange index on Friday, which said oil and natural gas prices will be stable for the next 18 to 24 months, with oil maintaining at about $50 per barrel.

He said with oil and natural gas prices maintaining, companies in those industries won’t be growing enough to make Fortune’s list.

But people already are starting on what could be the next booming technology company. Scott Meacham, i2e president and CEO, said Paycom’s listing in Fortune shows there is some diversification in the state’s economy.

Meacham said the nonprofit capital investment firm is seeing more start-ups in the traditional life sciences companies and in software/information technology businesses.

To help these entities grow, the state needs to produce more computer coders. Sometimes companies have to recruit outside the state to find the talent they need, he said.

“If you look at the projections for the economy of the future, they all show the greatest need of growth is in STEM-related jobs,” he said. “In general, we need to produce more (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs, because the economy is going that way.”

Oklahoma Venture Forum’s Immediate Past Chairman Jim Bratton said the nonprofit organization has seen several technology-related companies seeking capital investors. Some companies have won awards from venture forum for their revenue and employee growth.

Yet, fueling those technology-backed companies can be more challenging in Oklahoma than other states because there are not as much high-risk capital available. Some states have investors interested in startups and willing to back them financially.

In addition, people tend to leave the state to find a job in the tech field, he said. And now, the state is seeing quality teachers depart.

Companies need an educated workforce if they’re going to move to a new state, he said.

“Tech savvy entrepreneurs value education, particularly K-12 education, because many of them are of an age when they are starting families or have pre-college age children,” Bratton said. “If Oklahoma can’t provide a high-quality educational experience to their children, (the entrepreneurs) will go elsewhere.”

Richison said he thinks Oklahoma can be a technology-savvy state; but people need to get on board with the idea.

“We’re good at whatever we set our minds to,” he said. “We’re smart, driven, and competitive. The atmosphere in Oklahoma is as good as anywhere to start a company.”

He said it’s not good for Paycom to be the only large technology company. If there are multiple businesses in the same field, others will follow.

“We’d like for us to become a proof source of what technology could look like in Oklahoma in the future,” he said.

Read the story at JournalRecord.com