One-Stop Permit Operation, More Use of Block Grants Needed, Says Woelffer / for Economic Development

Article excerpt

Now that Mike Woelffer has been director of economic development for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce for approximate ly six months, he has had a chance to get a perspective of Oklahoma City and what city government is doing right and wrong for economic development.

Woelffer feels all entities of government - city, county and state - have to work together along with the private sector to improve the local economy and come up with ways to entice out-of-state businesses to set up operations here.

This coordination of efforts by public and private bodies was shown in the pitch Oklahoma City made this past summer for the $53 million aircraft maintenance facility proposed by The Boeing Co.

Though Boeing opted to go to Lake Charles, La., Woelffer feels there were some definite positive gains made from the Boeing application. The results were seen in the new Gulfstream Technologies operation, which eventually will employ 1,000 persons, and in helping Wilson Foods Corp. renovate a plant.

"I think the Boeing effort was probably the first time (in recent years) the city, the county and the state all got together to work at bringing in new jobs," he said. "Even though we didn't get the Boeing facility, we gained a lot of attention that we otherwise wouldn't received without it."

However, Oklahoma City still has a far way to go to pull itself out of its present economic slump. Woelffer points where some of the deficiencies in how the city handles economic development and where positive changes are under way.

He points to two significant potential changes that could be made:

- Forming a one-stop operation for permits and information that a new business needs.

- Using more of the federal community development block grants for business by "drawing them down" at one time and loaning out the money for economic development.

In the past few years, several cities across the country, faced with sagging sales tax revenues and a decline in the number of jobs, developed methods by which it could get back on its feet again.

The business community in Philadelphia, for example, got together several years ago and initiated ways to bring that city back to life.

While patterning economic development solely upon the success of a given city might seem like a good idea to some, Woelffer said such a move would be unwise.

"Each city is different, and what may have worked for one may not work for Oklahoma City," Woelffer said. He explained some definite things which can be done to attract new business and help existing businesses expand:

One-stop permits: City hall could make it easier in the way it provides information to new businesses about zoning issues, building permits and other permits needed to get established here, he said.

"Businesses have to go to four or five different places within city hall to get information on building codes and other codes," said Woelffer. "The city needs to have one stop shopping, to fast track that system, one person to answer those questions businesses need to know."

Woelffer suggested that at first the individual in charge of providing such information perhaps be a staff person who does provides the service as part of his regular duties. Then, as more businesses show an interest in the city, a whole office could be created that would be involved solely in putting forth necessary information to new and expanding businesses.

Ed McGee, director of the office of research and economic development, thinks such a "one stop" permit information office at city hall would be convenient for businesses, but he doesn't feel the information could be dispensed any quicker than it is at present. …