Thursday, August 14, 2003

Will CITGO leave Tulsa?

Venezuela-owned CITGO has announced it may uproot its North American HQ from Tulsa and move it to Houston. This could be yet another blow to Tulsa and the state if it happens. CITGO has been a very positive corporate citizen in Tulsa and employs a thousand people in the state.

Until recently, CITGO was run by a Venezuelan that loved Tulsa and intended to stay. Unfortunately, he was replaced some months ago by a loyalist to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who immediately ordered a study of whether CITGO should move to Houston.

At the same time that CITGO's pro-Tulsa president was replaced, Governor Brad Henry's Administration let the only Latin American specialist at the Department of Commerce go - a lady that had worked hard to establish a close relationship with CITGO and to assure they were happy in Oklahoma. With the state's primary link to the company's Venezuelan leadership gone - there was no one left that understood the company's inner culture. As the Miami Herald reports today, Houston moved quickly to stepup efforts to entice the new leadership to move to Houston. The leadership of the State of Oklahoma and Tulsa were apparently clueless about what was going on. This despite the common knowledge that the Houston Partnership (their Chamber of Commerce) continues to aggressively recruit Tulsa's remaining energy companies.

On the news tonight Governor Brad Henry was asked what he thought about yet another big company moving its HQ out of Oklahoma. Looking like a deer caught in headlights, the Governor murmured something about how CITGO really loved Oklahoma and that he'd be talking to CITGO. Belatedly, the Governor is now trying to meet with CITGO executives but CITGO seems in no hurry. Insiders at CITGO say they are frustrated the Governor had not moved earlier to court the new CITGO leadership. They also lament that Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Kathryn Taylor had relied on her ties to the equally clueless American side of CITGO's middle-management - naively thinking they called the shots at CITGO. And they don't. The Venezuelans do.

Oklahoma might lose CITGO (I hope not!) but we'd stand a better chance if our leaders were savvy.

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