The Edmond Sun

December 11, 2012

Economic boom on horizon for metro?

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Unless the nation slips back into a major economic recession, there’s a viable chance that Oklahoma City is poised to boom with economic growth in the coming decade, said Russell Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research & Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University.

How Edmond plans its piece of the economic pie could impact the prosperity of Edmond residents for generations to come, was Evans’ message Monday at a City Council workshop by the Edmond Economic Development Authority.

The EEDA has been working on an economic incentive package, said Nick Massey, city councilman. The timing for economic development presents a unique opportunity for business to capitalize on the local economy, Massey said.

Oklahoma City had a larger employment base than Austin in 1991, Evans said. But for the next decade, Austin added 300,000 jobs to its employment base with a total of 700,000 jobs. Today, Austin employs 800,000 people, Evans said.

“Something is happening that’s driving certain cities through these big transformative periods where they just explode in growth,” Evans said. “Wealth and income are concentrated now in just a handful of urban areas.”

Of seven well-defined megalopolis areas in the U.S. in terms of population, Oklahoma City is part of the third fastest growing megalopolis extending on Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Oklahoma City and beyond to Kansas City, Evans said.

“It’s the fastest growing region in terms of employment and population,” Evans said. Private earnings growth in the Oklahoma City market shifted upwards of 10 percent within the last year, he said.

“Something is happening in Oklahoma City that we think might be indicative of the early stages of this transformative period — the transformative period that Austin, Texas went through in 1991,” Evans said.

Expectations drive economic behavior, Evans said. Unresolved expectations of the national debt create uncertainty. The further somebody gets from his or her own sphere of influence, the more uncertain they become, Evans said.

U.S. banks have an extra $1.5 trillion of liquidity, the most any economy has ever had sidelined in the banking system, Evans said. The challenge will be how to manage the liquidity and sizable debt from causing inflation, he said. Nationally, economic conditions are experiencing a moderate, modest recovery, Evans said.

“The good news for Oklahoma is that’s really all we need,” Evans said. “We need modest economic activity nationally to keep the Oklahoma economy going with above-average rates of growth,” Evans said.

The question for Oklahoma City should not be how do we get bigger, but “how big do we want to be?” Evans said.

A lot of the success cities such as Boston, Portland and Austin have experienced is organic and not so much engineered, Evans said.

“It’s all about setting an environment. It’s all about fostering economic growth. It’s not about heavy-handed deciding that this is what we want to be,” Evans said. “It’s about allowing your economic growth to occur in an organic atmosphere. It helps to be lucky. It helps not to let the margins get away. I think people tend to forget that Microsoft could have easily been a New Mexico company instead of a Seattle company.”

Being lucky means not losing innovative leaders, Evans said. Proactive connectivity with infrastructure allows transactions to work on an economic basis, he said.

“Innovation occurs at the intersection of intelligence and creativity,” Evans said.

Letting intelligent ideas flow

Economic development varies among communities, said Janet Yowell, EEDA executive director. Edmond wants to create a climate where new and existing companies can grow increased wealth and a diversified tax base, she said.

“In research we’ve looked at just setting a standard policy and trying to have something that would fit most companies,” Yowell said. However, it was determined that case-by-case basis is a better solution to benefit the community as a whole, Yowell said.

A business and retail plan focuses on the need for increased sales tax revenue for the city, Yowell said. EEDA proposes the city provide assistance to new and existing retail businesses seeking to expand. This practice would be appropriate in under-utilized retail areas of the city or those areas that are in danger of becoming blighted areas, Yowell said.

“We would recommend these areas be projected on the city’s master plan that are already zoned for the kind of permit that somebody is making a request for,” Yowell said.

EEDA recommends assistance to the downtown Edmond corridor from Ninth Street to Ayers. Special consideration in this area would be given for assembling land within the goals of the Urban Board, Yowell said.  

“Another area would be Second Street from West Edmond Road going from Santa Fe, all the way out to Saints Boulevard, just east of I-35,” Yowell said. “Another area would be the I-35 corridor throughout our city limits.”

Recommendations also include the potential reimbursement of infrastructure costs including water sewer and electric, Yowell said. Certain billing and inspection fees could be waived for businesses, Yowell said. Facade improvement programs could enhance downtown reinvestment, she said.

A cost of service, energy efficiency study is being done for Edmond Electric and Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority rates and programs, Yowell said. | 341-2121