The Edmond Sun

January 4, 2013

OUR VIEW: Economic development plan deserves consideration

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — An economist recently told the Edmond City Council that the entire Oklahoma City metropolitan area has the potential to boom with economic growth in the next decade. Edmond officials are making plans now to be ready for that potential growth to ensure the city gets its fair share of the economic pie.

Councilman Nick Massey is leading the charge to create an economic development program for the city’s future. After several months of research and work, the Edmond Economic Development Authority has proposed an incentive plan for businesses interested in moving here as well as for existing businesses that want to expand.

In the proposal before the City Council, there are incentives for retail sectors and other sectors. One trigger for receiving infrastructure incentives would be for a new or existing business to make a development proposal in an area where more retail is needed or in an area that is threatened with blight. The plan highlights certain corridors where the city is interested in spurring new growth and development: The downtown Edmond corridor down Broadway from Ninth Street to Ayers; Second Street from Saints Boulevard west to Santa Fe Avenue; and I-35 from the north to south city limits.

The city potentially could reimburse for infrastructure costs and fees, fast-track some permitting processes and improve public infrastructure in those areas to spur development. Edmond Electric also could play a role in incentives, Massey said.

In a Quality Jobs proposal, a company also could be offered an incentive plan offering cash back from the city’s General Fund if the business hits certain performance metrics. One metric is generating $750,000 in new payroll inside the city limits with jobs that have an average $40,000 annual salary. Once the agreed-upon threshold is achieved, the company could be eligible to receive a percentage of the new payroll amount on the anniversary date for the next two years as long as the payroll has been maintained, according to the EEDA plan.

Perhaps the best example of the city promoting future economic development is the hotel/conference center project at I-35 and Covell where the city purchased land that it will lease to the developers with an option to buy it within a certain number of years. The city also is investing in infrastructure improvements there. How this project comes to fruition will be telling in how these types of incentives can be used in the future.

In general, the framework provided in the EEDA’s plan is a good place to start. We see some questions and concerns such as exactly where the reimbursement money will come from and what limits will be put on how much the city will spend annually on such reimbursements.

Perhaps the most pressing concern is that while this plan sounds like a great idea with this particular City Council in charge of things, it might not work so well in the future under a different City Council. In taking a true case-by-case approach without some more general guidelines, a future council might negotiate an item to death or might not negotiate enough for the best interests of the city. Edmond has prospered with some truly great leadership at its helm, but there’s just no guarantee that great leadership will be guiding the economic reins 20 or 30 years from now.

Whatever economic incentive plan the council puts in place now must be able to stand the test of both time and human frailty while delivering the growth the city needs to sustain the next 50-100 years of quality living. We think this plan has many merits, but it also needs some fine-tuning.