Tulsa's business climate is hot and cold

Wednesday, June 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

As we told you earlier this week, Williams is also facing the possibility of layoffs. But you might be surprised that many Tulsa companies are surviving, even "thriving" during the bad economy.

News on Six business reporter Steve Berg explains that a Tulsa factory that's one of Business Week magazine’s top 100 hottest growth companies. They're one of the hottest, but you could also say, coldest companies in the country.

AAON manufactures commercial-grade heating and air-conditioning systems. And they're turning up the heat on the rest of the industry. "It's been experiencing year in and year out an average of about 5 percent growth and we've been experiencing about a 20-percent growth." AAON CEO Norman Asbjornson says it's not as if they re-invented the wheel. He says this is a "mature" industry. In other words, he says, there haven't been any big technological breakthroughs. Which leaves one simple rule. "Satisfy your customers."

And his customers used to be their customers. He says AAON is gobbling up a lot of market share. "Basically our growth is coming at the cost of our competitors dealing with us.” How big is AAON? They started with 60,000 feet of manufacturing space, now they have 1.2-million. Just this week, Business Week put them on the list of its 100 hottest growth companies for the third year in a row, ranking them number 23.

By every measure they're booming. Their stock value has more than doubled in the past year. The workforce has gone from 94 in the late 80's to about 1,200 workers today, and they have plans to add 1,000 more workers over the next decade.

They're not the only ones; Whirlpool breaks ground Thursday on a plant expansion that will add more than 200 workers. And US Cellular has moved a regional office here with as many as 150 new jobs. While the economy may run hot and cold, some are forging right ahead.

AAON says one of its other strategies is to keep introducing new products, even during the recession, to appeal to customers and stay ahead of competitors.