Development effort puts focus on county

By Traci Chapman
Published on May 24, 2008

A push to bring new jobs to Canadian County through a countywide partnership is ramping up, and backers contend a focused effort could deliver “big payoffs” for area communities.

Robert Coleman, director of the El Reno Economic Development Partnership, is spearheading the effort to recruit area cities and county officials to join the venture — the Canadian County Economic Development Partnership. Coleman said his own city’s “baby steps” in economic development “are just the beginning,” and expanding the effort throughout the county would result in new businesses locating in the area and strengthening the sales tax.

“Everyone wants retail because that’s where the sales tax dollars are,” he said. “We also need industry, and we have the land for it — what we need is someone who can catalog and market those properties so we’re viable for businesses looking to bring jobs and money into the county.”

Coleman said the problem is a lack of “cohesiveness” in efforts to attract light industry and to develop a focused plan for future development.

“The problem is we are too fractured, and there is no real concerted effort to move things forward. This is a way to bring everyone together,” he said. “We’ve got some great minds out there — across the county — but we’re not all on the same page. In order to become competitive, we really need to work together.”

While some cities — such as Mustang — don’t want industry within their city limits, Coleman said manufacturing in surrounding areas could greatly enhance “quality of life” for residents because industrial employees would likely live and spend their tax dollars at that city’s retail establishments.

Coleman said the concept of the partnership is to define each city’s plan and combine efforts to develop a “one-stop shop,” combining the resources of all of the cities and the county and making a concerted effort on “everyone’s behalf” to bring business into the area, Coleman said. CCEP would work with the Oklahoma City Partnership, a 10-county group encouraging economic growth in Western Oklahoma, as well as the Oklahoma Film Commission, Department of Tourism and other entities, he said.

Coleman said CCEP would collect an annual “membership” fee from every city willing to participate in the study to fund the group. Fees are based on each city’s population, with Yukon being assessed the largest amount at $29,393. Mustang’s initial cost would be $21,680, and El Reno’s portion would total $21,389. Each of the county’s smaller municipalities — Piedmont, Union City, Okarche, Calumet and unincorporated portions of Canadian County — would pay fees ranging from $702 for Calumet to $6,861 paid by the county for its unincorporated areas.

The partnership would also recruit members from businesses already in the county, Coleman said. The goal would be to make the venture “something basically run by the private employers,” he said.

“What usually happens is that private industry generally takes over the day-to-day operations,” he said. “First, we have to start with the county and cities to get it going and make it a viable entity to bring in those businesses we need.”

Membership fees — an anticipated $90,000 from the public sector and $70,000 from private businesses — would be used to fund an office and two employees to staff it, Coleman said. He said his goal is to “open the doors” in July, but he said September or October is probably more “obtainable.”

Coleman made a presentation to County Commissioners Monday about the partnership. He said Piedmont has already signed on, and the remaining Canadian County cities are “discussing possible participation” in a county effort during budget sessions. Calumet “probably won’t participate,” he said; Commissioners said they would discuss the project further in “future meetings.”

City Manager David Cockrell included the cost of the partnership on Mustang’s proposed budget submitted to City Council during its budget sessions, which concluded last week. City officials debated the anticipated $21,680 fee during the sessions.

Mustang Mayor Jeff Landrith questioned the need for the investment into a countywide economic development plan, but Cockrell said the partnership could help stimulate retail growth and home sales in Mustang.

“We’ve got a lot of sales tax,” Landrith said. “I don’t see why we don’t take that money and put it somewhere else instead of Canadian County economic development.”

“It would be my recommendation to work with the other cities on this. Economic development has gotten us where we are,” Cockrell said. “It’s big thinking — you have to look at economic development as a partnership.”


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