Halliburton earned a record $2.4 billion last year, but Houston executives will forgo Texas-sized luxury when they come to this rural Oklahoma county seat this week.
Shareholders, who have gathered for the company's annual meeting since 2003 at Houston's lavish Four Seasons Hotel, will meet Wednesday in the modern, but far humbler setting of Duncan's convention center. Those staying the night can choose the Holiday Inn, with rooms opening onto the parking lot, and the Chisholm Suites Hotel, which takes its name for the cattle trail that once passed here.
Halliburton Co. says it moved its meeting to this company town of 22,500 to honor its southern Oklahoma roots. The company's critics accuse it of running to a prairie outpost to hide.
"They're relocating to a city where they don't actually have to be accountable to their own shareholders," said Maureen Haver, spokeswoman for the Houston Global Awareness Collective and one of 15 protesters arrested at Halliburton's meeting last year. "They're going to a town they have in their pocket."
The oilfield services conglomerate is not alone in taking big business to middle America's smaller places.
International Business Machines Corp. recently held its annual meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma's second largest city, and Pfizer Inc. met in Lincoln, Neb., locations where both New York-based companies have operations.
Joseph Horgan, a representative for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, came to Tulsa to represent the union's concerns and ended up riding out a tornado warning in a parking garage. Days later, he followed Pfizer to Lincoln.
Both meetings, he said, were convened far from concentrations of active shareholders, limiting participation by those with beefs about high executive pay and other business practices.
"They were trying to escape scrutiny by active owners," he complained after the IBM meeting.
IBM and Pfizer say changing their meeting locations is nothing new and that doing so gives shareholders in different regions of the country the chance to show up and executives the chance to showcase local facilities. Both reported average meeting attendance.
"In many cases, we have retirees who are shareholders and it gives them an opportunity to attend the meeting and listen to management talk about business," said Pfizer spokesman Paul Fitzhenry, who listed other recent meetings in Ann Arbor, Mich., Groton, Conn., and St. Louis.
Halliburton's annual meetings have drawn 200 to 500 protesters in recent years.
The company, once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, has drawn criticism for its big government contracts, some awarded without competitive bidding. Its KBR unit provides support services for troops stationed in the Middle East.
But the company denies trying to escape critics by moving to this quiet town, where Old Glory waves on Main Street and old timers drink coffee at the downtown drug store.
"We are holding our meeting in Duncan because we are a company that values our tradition and spirit of innovation - much of which started in Duncan more than 80 years ago," spokeswoman Cathy Mann said. "We are excited to showcase this heritage for our shareholders."
Erle P. Halliburton's oilfield services company incorporated in Duncan in 1924. It moved its headquarters in 1961 to Dallas and later to Houston but remains Duncan's top employer.
The 2,400 workers at Halliburton's manufacturing, technology center, field camps and administrative offices here grossed more than $126 million last year.
"Almost everyone we know is related to Halliburton or retired from Halliburton, or a spouse works there," said Mindy Borgstadt, whose husband is an engineer for the company.
Residents see their futures so inextricably linked to Halliburton that even those with only praise for the company were afraid to share it for publication, lest it divert from the company line.
"If it hadn't been for Halliburton, Duncan wouldn't be this kind of town at all," explained retired Halliburton engineer Tex Hamilton, envisioning an abandoned speck on the map instead of a humming little city full of fellow retirees.
About 100 shareholders attended last year's meeting, but Mann wouldn't speculate how many will make the trip to Duncan.
A group that accuses Halliburton of war profiteering, Oklahoma Veterans for Peace, received a permit for 300 demonstrators outside the meeting at the Simmons Center, a venue Halliburton helped fund. The group's organizers expect to be joined by anti-globalization activists and other protest groups, including Houston Global Awareness.
Extra law officers and other security will be on hand, and a nearby middle school will close for the day for the students' safety. Last year's arrests followed a sit-in at the Houston hotel where the meeting took place.
City Manager Clyde Shaw said protesters aren't something he's had to deal with in the planning for other annual draws, including the "World's Largest Garage Sale" in July. A group of Duncan residents have obtained a permit to hold a pro-Halliburton counter demonstration.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press