Economic Development in Okmulgee County During the Pandemic
The day to day business life of the employees of an economic development office (EDO) has changed, and in a big way. But EDOs are not unlike other industries. Some changes in locations, we’re working from home, some major shifts in how we use technology. We are averaging at least five video conference calls per day on topics and issues relevant to COVID-19 and economic development. While many EDOs across the country have seen major reductions in staff, so far the Okmulgee Area Development Corp. office is still at full strength, and ready to help where we can.
One of our industries better known consultants has completed the first big survey of economic development offices and recently released the results. On most issues, Okmulgee is doing better than most US based economic development offices (EDO).
Of the nationwide EDOs that participated in this survey:
80% reported that every single project they were working on has either been canceled, put on hold, or is taking a wait and see position. Some EDOs reported that when the pandemic started, they had NO pending projects in the pipeline! That statistic is just plain scary. I know to a certain extent economic development has a “luck” and “timing” component, but personally I believe that working as smart as you can, keeping your head in the game and working hard, trumps luck in the end. The Okmulgee Area Development Corporation has several significant projects in process, and plenty of assets to offer.
74% report that they have shifted to focus on local issues and business assistance. Local economic development offices, chambers of commerce, cities and state agencies are all busy supporting the US Small Business Administration and financial aid packages passed at the Federal level. In working with our local banks, they all report that their loan officers and executives are putting in twelve to even fourteen hour days, to keep up with the demand for banking services. This was the result of the SBA programs for the Payroll Protection Program, The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the two Oklahoma Department of Commerce plans: Reboot and Bounce Back.
46% report that they are taking a multi-disciplinary collaboration with other professions or economy-related fields. (Public health, city planning, workforce development, banking, social services). The Okmulgee Area Development Corporation is in contact with the area’s other development offices and communities, offering our assistance when and where it has been requested. We contact and interview companies (that have the time to speak with us) and most say they have rolled up their sleeves and tried their best to continue business as usual.
The Okmulgee Area Development Corporation, was fortunate to have several projects in the pipeline before the pandemic started. A couple of those are still progressing. None of our industrial projects have been canceled but we have heard back from a few companies that they are waiting with a more cautious outlook before moving ahead. Since in-person site visits are not practical, we are working on a virtual site visit option. Retail is 100% moving forward. Casey’s and the plans for a Food Park are still in process. Negotiations continue with Pruett’s as well. Plus Harbor Freight is now open! Local development projects under the City of Okmulgee are still in process, these include the new water tower on north Highway 75 and the water/sewer rebuild on 6th Street in downtown.
We continue to contact prospective clients in all sectors: manufacturing, services and retail. As strange as it may sound, the OADC has actually picked up two new prospects for future projects. One prospect in the logistics industry and one in aviation.
We are fortunate that during this time, all of our manufactures (except one) have remained in production, perhaps not at full capacity. One factory temporarily shut down for a few weeks, but now has an advance team in the plant getting it ready to go back on line in the near future.
Covington Aircraft and many of our major employers decided that if the pandemic doesn’t want us going out to lunch, then they’ll have lunch brought into the plant. This is obviously a huge boost to help several local restaurants keep their employees on the payroll. A great big Pat On The Back to our restaurants and other service businesses in Okmulgee County. They have been very resourceful and creative in figuring out how to stay open and hopefully, how to keep or retain most of their staff.
The OADC staff continues to work hard, but obviously with some shifts from our normal system. Our office is located inside City Hall, however, we will continue to work remotely from home, until City Hall reopens. In a different survey conducted on those working from home, by a national real estate firm (Colliers) some surprising results revealed that many (80%) feel that their productivity has seen no change or actually increased. The longer they worked from home the more productive they became mainly due to the fact that many of the interruptions they experienced in the office are not present in the home office. On the other hand, there are new distractions to deal with for most. I think we’re all getting used to the video conferencing explosion, and now consider group efforts done on the computer with audio/video the new normal.
The dedicated staff of the OADC is working hard to continue our services and programs in as close to normal as possible. One thing is very certain, there WILL be a new normal, what that will look like only time will tell. If you or your company needs assistance from the OADC, we’re on duty, and only a phone call away.
About the Author
Court Newkirk is the Director of Okmulgee Area Development Corp (OADC). A native of Oklahoma, he has decades of community and economic development experience, some of which was in Okmulgee in the 90s. Court is a big believer that Okmulgee can be anything it wants to be, if we all work together. Contact Court at Court@ChooseOkmulgee.com.