Corporate interest growing in OKC

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

by Molly M. Fleming

Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – More companies are interested in the city now than they were a couple of years ago.

During the 2017-2018 fiscal year’s second quarter, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber worked on an average of 55 projects a month. At the same time two years ago, the chamber averaged 38 projects a month, said Kurt Foreman, chamber executive vice president.

A project is a company or someone who represents a company that has contacted the chamber to talk about relocation or expansion.

During the second quarter, those calls came more directly to the chamber, rather than through a third party. About 70 percent of the projects started with direct contact to the chamber, and 30 percent came through a state entity.

Foreman said that’s an important difference because it means that Oklahoma City isn’t part of a broader net; rather, companies are seeking the city specifically.

“My personal goal was to have the calls be about 50-50,” he said. “We don’t want to be over-reliant on the state. We want to make sure we’re doing our work too.”

The chamber works with the city of Oklahoma City on what incentives can be offered to the companies, which help the city be more competitive in the relocation game.

The city can offer money from general obligation limited tax proceeds to companies that create primary jobs. A primary job is defined as one where the good or service that is created is sold outside the local economy and the payment for those services provides more investment in the local economy.

Foreman said at Tuesday’s Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust meeting that many of the projects are with food-related companies, but not restaurants.

“It’s critical to build that food-business infrastructure,” chamber Chairwoman Rhonda Hooper told The Journal Record. “We have some great food manufacturers in the city, so it would be nice to add more to that. It’s a combination of having multiple things contributing to our economy that makes it a little more shockproof for any industry when it goes down.”

In 2017, the chamber worked with companies that said they would create a total of 4,175 jobs, which is more than in 2016. The jobs would have an average salary of $49,064, which is high for the region, and have a capital investment of $237 million.

Some of those new businesses include Solaris Paper Co.; MedXM, which opened an outreach call center; and Niagara water bottling company.

The chamber also has a full talent and business growth staff that visits more than 300 businesses annually to see what they need to keep their company in Oklahoma City. The team travels to more than 30 shows per year, promoting the city and the incentives that are available, both at a city and state level.

“If we’re not doing it, some other community could come and encourage a company to move there, just like we do in other parts of the country,” Foreman said.

The city signed a $157,500 agreement this week with Oklahoma City-based M-D Building Products, which is adding 105 jobs in the next five years.

There are more jobs to come, and they’re not homegrown, Foreman said. A company will make an announcement on Friday, with another entity making an announcement later this year. Together they will bring at least 600 jobs and pay an average of $60,000.

“I would say we’re seeing a big rebound after the energy slowdown,” he said. “Most of our projects are not energy-related, which is good for diversification of the economy.”

Hooper said diversification is important because it gives people career path options. She said people don’t want to come to a market for one reason and have to leave when that reason is no longer valuable.

“We want to provide career tracks for people,” she said.