A recent nonscientific survey suggests Oklahoma needs to improve its national reputation for diversity to attract businesses.
There's nothing wrong with promoting a live-and-let-live attitude where reasonable, but to argue that perceptions about diversity are more important than the general business climate — taxes, regulation, workforce, infrastructure — is off base.
The survey sprang from Risha Grant, head of a Tulsa public relations firm. Grant notably used the poll results to criticize State Question 759, which would outlaw affirmative-action programs in state government. So her survey may be mostly a slam on SQ 759 rather than a serious critique of an economic development problem.
Still, Grant's arguments should be addressed. We've noted before that other states have adopted affirmative-action bans, including some far more liberal than Oklahoma, without suffering a perception problem. Grant claims Oklahoma's image has been harmed by high-profile instances like state Rep. Sally Kern's comment that homosexuality was “the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam.” Likewise, Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez says one firm had to be assured that one person's intolerant statement doesn't represent the entire state.
In a state with 3.7 million people, someone, somewhere will say something that others find objectionable. We're not fans of Kern's rhetoric, but we doubt that her views are derailing economic growth. If inflammatory language were a job killer, entertainers in California and New York would have single-handedly devastated those states' business climates.
Comedian Bill Maher routinely denigrates women with vulgarisms we can't print. Must California economic development officials assure business leaders that not all of their state is a hotbed of intolerance toward women? We doubt it. And Maher has a national TV show. Most people, including Oklahomans, couldn't pick Kern out of a lineup. If Maher's comments have no impact, there's no reason to credit Kern or other local individuals with greater national influence.