Roundtable: Economic Development Gurus Importance of Diversifying OKC Economy

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Area economic development gurus stressed the importance of diversifying the local economy while also trying to capitalize on cluster opportunities during a recent panel sponsored by The Journal Record.

Other hot topics included the importance of incentives and value of regional economic development efforts for recruiting new businesses into the Oklahoma City area.

Ted Streuli, managing editor of The Journal Record, moderated the group which included Gary Pence, manager of business development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; Don Wood, executive director of the Norman Economic Development Coalition; Janet Yowell, executive director of the Edmond Economic Development Authority; Darrell Noblitt, chairman of the Mustang Economic Development Authority; Deidre Ebrey, director of economic development for the City of Moore; and David Burnett, economic development director for the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce.

Are we getting enough bang for our buck? In other words, does the return on taxpayers' investment justify the costs associated with attracting new businesses?

Burnett: I think you have to be careful how you measure return on investment. If you're talking about a dollar-for-dollar return, you have to look at some numbers and sometimes it takes a while for those numbers to compensate. When you have a lot of outgo and startup, it takes a while for the income to match. But I've worked in areas where there's a high price for not providing the incentives. And that price is that you don't get the jobs. Any of the big projects that you're going up against, you're competing with communities that are out there and some of them are willing to give away the store. There are people out there that are shooting at your businesses all of the time.

So one of the things that you have to consider versus where we are on a spreadsheet analysis today, is 'Can we afford to do without these jobs? Can we afford to let some other community come in and raid our jobs?'

Twenty years from now, we're going to be wanting our children and grandchildren to be able to have jobs in this community so that we're not like some of the other little rural communities that are out there. I've worked with communities that in the '30s were thriving communities and just kind of developed a 'what will be, what will be' attitude, and today they're nothing. And so, realistically speaking, you can't measure the value of incentives on a balance sheet. One of the measures of incentives, in my opinion, are what price are we willing to pay for the future vitality and viability of this community.

Yowell: Particularly in Edmond, local companies count for the majority of our local job growth. That has always been the case and that will always be my primary focus. Having said that, we're still going to go out and try and recruit companies. I think it's important that we're out there in that game like Dave said because other cities are trying to take our companies away from that. So, we balance it in our budget on how much we spend on retention versus attracting new companies.

One of the things that I think is important is when you look at a company coming in, you can do an impact study of just the construction of a new facility. That has a big impact on your community right there. So you need to add that into the total picture. And then what other supplier companies may come in with that, whether it's five years down the road.

So you have to look at the big picture and look at those kinds of things and say, 'yeah' we really can have a larger impact than the initial thing that we see offered to a company. And particular, in this last year, I think that with Dell we will probably be monitoring the impact of that into all of the surrounding communities where the people are going to live.

Pence: Unfortunately in this stage of economic development throughout the country, incentives play a huge part. …