Phillips planned move tops list of 2001 state business news

Saturday, December 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma's Big Oil is Texas bound.

The announcement in November that Phillips Petroleum Co. would move its corporate offices from Bartlesville to Houston as part of the new ConocoPhillips topped the list of Oklahoma business stories in 2001.

During the year, farmers struggled with low grain prices, and oil and gas prices fell, costing the state revenue. Hits to telecommunications, steel and aviation took a toll on employment.

But the merger of Phillips and Houston-based Conoco was the most prominent story because Phillips is Oklahoma's largest publicly held corporation and its last major, integrated oil company.

Phillips, No. 89 on the Fortune 500 list of top companies with the most revenue, began in Bartlesville 84 years ago.

It was the only Oklahoma-based company remaining with worldwide operations that drill and produce oil and gas, refine and sell gasoline and make plastics and other petrochemicals.

Others majors, including Conoco, left the state decades ago, merged out of existence or changed missions.

After the deal closes next year, ConocoPhillips plans to keep some offices in Bartlesville, where it employs 2,400. But at least 400 of the most prestigious jobs in the northeastern Oklahoma town of 35,000 will move to Houston.

Gov. Frank Keating wants executives to have new corporate offices in Oklahoma. He hopes to reschedule a meeting in Houston with company officials for mid-January that was canceled because of weather, spokesman Phil Bacharach said.

Conoco chairman Archie Dunham, an Oklahoma native, said it makes more sense to base ConocoPhillips in a corporate center such as Houston rather than Bartlesville.

``You can't be a great global company and operate out of a small town anywhere in America,'' Conoco chairman Archie Dunham said. ``It has nothing to do with Oklahoma.''

While this was the biggest business story of the year in Oklahoma, a major political story with strong business overtones occurred in September when voters approved a right-to-work measure. The law prohibits labor contracts forcing employees to pay union dues.

In 2001, telecommunications and steel slowdowns cost the state hundreds of jobs:

_About 600 jobs were lost when Lucent Technologies sold its Oklahoma City plant to Celestica Inc. of Canada.

_Williams Communications reduced its Tulsa work force by about 400 amid talk of an overcapacity on fiber optic networks.

_A drop in new orders for construction equipment used in the telecom industry forced Perry-based Charles Machine Works to layoff 250 in October after cutting 300 jobs earlier.

_A travel slowdown after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks forced American Airlines to cut 750 jobs in Tulsa.

_Tulsa-based Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group laid off 250 people in the city because of the travel disruption.

_Sheffield Steel Corp., the only steel mill in Oklahoma and the largest private industry in Sand Springs, filed for bankruptcy in early December. The company employs 300 locally.

_Grede Foundries Inc., which had a Pryor foundry, released 400 employees just before Christmas.

Energy concern Williams Cos. took moves to support its credit rating as Enron's bankruptcy shook the energy-trading world.

After losing the foundry jobs, Pryor got some good news. Cigarette manufacturing company, Xcaliber International, said it will hire 250 workers within two years at a planned Pryor manufacturing plant.

Tahlequah also received good news before Christmas. Fast Trac Manufacturing of Hollister, Calif., plans to move to Tahlequah, change its name to Cherokee Motorcyle Co. and build its own brand-name bike.

The company said it plans to employ between 250 and 300.