Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Let's Have a Free, Open Dialog on Economic Development

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Let's Have a Free, Open Dialog on Economic Development

Article excerpt

Here it is, the beginning of another year, and still I don't know what's going to happen to economic development efforts.

There is an optimistic feeling in the air, though, that transportation is going to play a key role, as always, in bringing new industry to the state. Of course, that feeling always seems to be in the air this time of year. I guess it's because this is a time for change and to start over, so people just have this optimistic attitude. Too bad it can't last all year.

There is no news about negotiations on any major project for Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport, which is unusual because the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, city and county officials seem to be always working to bring something here.

Probably the reason I haven't heard much is that chamber officials are no longer talking to me, or any member of the press for that matter. It seems they are in a snit because a reporter mentioned on television that Pemco of Birmingham, Ala., was considering Will Rogers World Airport as an expansion site.

Too many press reports, the reasoning went, give away information competing cities need to sweeten their own offers. The press gets blamed every time something goes wrong, except in the United Airlines maintenance center sweepstakes, the highly visible competition which left Indianapolis holder of a $1 billion airplane maintenance shop. But every other time Oklahoma City has been a near-miss in the economic development crap shot, the local press drove them away. Too much press coverage ties the hands of economic development officials who are negotiating these sensitive deals, they all say.

Negotiations made in private with a public announcement of the final incentives package before the contract is signed is the only way to lure new industry, these negotiators say.

They could be right, to a certain extent. But look at what is happening to Alabama.

No sooner has the ink dried on documents of the package that lured Mercedes-Benz' first foreign assembly plant to the farm community of Vance in the north central part of the state than the deal has shown signs of possibly coming apart. Press reports of the package, which were not publicly disclosed beforehand, are causing many people in that state to object. Too much was paid to get this deal, which may not be as good as Alabama Gov. Jim Folsom led people to believe, press reports say.

The $300 million factory is expected to employ 1,500 people to produce annually 60,000 sport utility vehicles, each costing about $30,000. This is expected to create an additional 13,500 jobs over the next 20 years.

Not only did the package cost the state $250 million in incentives, but the state promised to buy some of the new vehicles and help the company sell 2,500 more to government agencies and schools. Lots of Alabama residents are concerned that state employees will be driving cars, paid for with tax money, which cost more than most of the houses. The governor's new official car is expected to be an $82,000 Mercedes-Benz, instead of an American-made vehicle.

For some reason folks in Alabama don't appreciate this. …

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