‘Occupy Koch town’ ignores the facts

By Melissa Cohlmia. A version of this appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

I’ve lived in Wichita nearly all my life and know what a welcoming community this is. But with protesters arriving here this week to “speak out” against my employer, Koch Industries, it’s unlikely the red carpet will be rolled out for them given their unfounded attacks and nasty resentment of this company.

The protesters are occupying “Koch Town” because, in their own words, they want to tell our shareholders, “No Keystone XL Pipeline.” If that is their goal, the protesters have the wrong address, like so many who perpetuate the false claim that Koch is behind the Keystone XL Pipeline project. For the record, one more time, we are not.

Protesting Koch means protesting the livelihoods of 2,700 Kansans and 50,000 Americans who are employed by Koch companies. In these tough economic times, these jobs have provided our employees financial security during the recession and ensuing painful, slow recovery. Koch companies employ tens of thousands in manufacturing products Americans want and need — things like fiber for carpeting, clothing and air bags; building and consumer products; and petroleum-based products and building-block chemicals that make our lives better and provide much-needed energy. These are the kinds of jobs that create a robust manufacturing sector, which America needs in order to stay competitive.

Protesting Koch also means protesting the many ways Koch companies and our employees contribute to the community. As the protesters visit our city, we invite them to take notice of the Koch Orangutan Exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo or the Koch Habitat Hall at Great Plains Nature Center. If they prefer something less wild, they can visit the Koch Aquatic Center at the YMCA. Or if they want to see something more creative, they could spend time at the Koch Family Sculpture Garden at the Wichita Center for the Arts. Maybe they could bowl a few frames for the Koch-sponsored “Bowl for Kids’ Sake” event to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters.

I am proud to work for Koch. As director of corporate communication, I’ve read and heard much about this company and its shareholders that is dishonest, distorted and derogatory. And while we continue to try to bat down the falsehoods, as quickly as we quash one, another rears its ugly head. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

I ran my own small business and experienced the ups and downs that come with breaking out on my own. I met demands from customers, made profit, and put it toward my family and the causes I believed in. When I decided to join Koch, it was in part because of the values of this company – honesty, integrity, respect, a focus on real value creation. I saw that I could participate in an enterprise that was hard at work improving people’s lives on a larger scale. Since coming to Koch, I have never been asked to veer from these values.

So, protesters, as you visit Wichita, you’ll notice we’re friendly, patriotic, and proud of our work ethic and community spirit. We won’t shout back unless it’s at a basketball game at Wichita State’s Charles Koch Arena. And we’re proud of Koch Industries and our fellow employees because this company makes a positive difference in our lives and our community.

Melissa Cohlmia is director of corporate communication for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC and a Wichitan.

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