Chamber Names Director of Economic Development

Article excerpt

Michael T. Woelffer, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs will join the Oklahoma City Cham ber of Commerce as its director of economic and community development effective April 1, Lee Allan Smith, chamber chairman announced Thursday.

The hiring of Woelffer brings to an end a 10-month search for a leader of efforts to revitalize a local economy heavily dependant on sagging oil and agricultural markets.

"From what I've seen of Oklahoma, you're probably three years behind where we're at in Illinois," he said.

He bases that assumption on the fact that when other states were forced to come up with strong economic programs during the early 1980's, growth and opportunity in Oklahoma were bolstered by the booming oil economy.

"Today we're going to need strong programs in Oklahoma," he said.

"It can't be done by the government, per se," he said. "Most of it (support for economic growth) has to come from the private sector."

Calling the Oklahoma economic picture "a tremendous challenge," Woelffer said he was willing to leave a cabinet-level position in Illinois because of two factors.

"I think the trend in economic development is that communities and cities in the United States will play a more important role in the future of economic development," he said.

"Number two, the future of cities is dependant on people," he said, stating that Oklahoma has "great people."

Woelffer said it is important for the local economy to "build off what you currently have."

For example, he said, Tinker Air Force base provides a good opportunity to increase government contracts. Additionally, he said, aggressive efforts must be made to attract new companies to the area.

In his post in Illinois, the 33-year-old is responsible for a $600 million budget and 600 employees, and answers directly to the governor.

He handles economic development for the state, all community affairs and all conventions and tourism in Illinois. …