State Hunting for Economic Development Funds

Article excerpt

Capital is scarce in Oklahoma as failures of banks and savings and loans have limited potential financing for economic development.

Venture capital is what Oklahoma needs to enhance its economic development, said Ed Bee, director of the economic development division of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

The ability to finance new projects is limited because of problems in the past. Banks cannot do today what they could do five or six years ago, he said. The state needs a more stable financial situation that would allow banks to write more commercial and industrial loans.

Oklahoma must have strong lending institutions to meet the financing needs of business, said U.S. Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla.

"This session of Congress, we'll be working on the plan to save the savings and loan industry. A top priority of mine will be to protect depositors, but also to ensure that rural lending institutions will be given a chance to succeed."

Capital is scarce in Oklahoma, Synar said. The recent bank and savings and loan failures have frightened everyone.

"We must restore people's trust in banking institutions so these lenders will be there for future economic development," he said.

The highest priority for 1989 will be to gear up the existing industry program to help them increase their profitability and attract supplier companies for businesses like AT&T and General Motors, said Bee.

"I plan to focus our resources on areas that we can achieve some success," Bee said. "We will target our market in the types of companies we try to attract to create more jobs in the local economy."

There is also a great opportunity to commercialize some research and development and start some companies here, creating new jobs, Bee said. There is considerable research and development in the universities and the private sector.

"Never before has there been such an emphasis on economic development in our state," said Synar. "We've come up with plans, put together tax incentives and organized industry recruitment trips.

"When we invest in people - ensure good education, health care, a clean environment - economic development will follow. We have to work at making Oklahoma the kind of place that new business and industry feel has a promising future," Synar said.

Bee wants to see the chamber more actively involved in international trade and inverse investment, which are going to be growth areas for the United States in the next five to 10 years.

He is in the research phase of putting together an action plan.

"I am a firm believer in planning," he said. "If you don't have a plan, you just don't go anywhere."

The seven target areas for the chamber's economic development efforts are:

- Improve the rate of new business formation.

- Develop Oklahoma City as a distribution center.

- Attract service industries like back office operations.

- Establish Oklahoma City as a center for world trade and reverse investment.

- Expand existing industry.

- Establish a national business image for Oklahoma City.

- Attract targeted manufacturing.

Oklahoma City is well positioned to attract service industries like the Hertz operating center and Howard Johnson, Bee said, and this is the fastest growth sector of the U.S. economy. These operations would not be corporate headquarters, but would involve a lot of people to provide a service.

Bee does not think that Oklahoma has a business image at all, but would like to develop an image of a positive, pro-business, innovative, up-and-coming city like San Diego, San Antonio or Phoenix.

Focused marketing, which attracts businesses that can thrive in the existing economy, is more cost efficient, Bee said.

"Oklahoma City has tremendous assets," Bee said, "that need to be directed in the right channels. …