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  • Writer's pictureCourt Newkirk

Odds and Ends for Summer Contemplations

Last Month’s Article:

Just so you’ll have something to think about this hot summer in Okmulgee: Last month’s article was about the need for zoning in Okmulgee County. I talked about Glenpool and their fantastic growth rate. The number of people who work in Okmulgee but live in Tulsa (and surrounding area) and how big our local economy would be if they lived and spent their paychecks in Okmulgee? But then we got a message that asked a very important question: How could Okmulgee County let a developer build a trailer park in a flood plain? Answer: It’s legal for a developer to do that because we don’t have county zoning. I’m not going to blow smoke in your face and tell you I have received many calls about zoning since the article came out, that would be a lie. I’ve gotten a handful of calls and people stopping me on the street to talk about zoning. Zoning is not a dead issue. I feel like the latest example of how it causes a problem will help more and more people start wondering if saying “No” to zoning is now the best option? Well, maybe it’s time for a lot more talk, and a plan, and some action. There is a small but growing group in Okmulgee County District #1 that is researching how to have an initiative petition to put it up for a vote of the people. I’ll try my best to keep you informed.

Where Have They Gone:

The OADC just moved into our new offices. Right now, we’re still busy unpacking and trying to get organized before we have an open house. While cleaning out an old file I found a list of the retail stores that were in Okmulgee in the early 1990’s. How many do you remember, how many did you used to patronize? Ever wonder why they are no longer in Okmulgee. Here’s just a few. BeeLine Bowl, Waterbed Paradise, Evelyn’s Upholstery, Kim’s Beauty Salon, Aunt Bea’s Restaurant, United Rental, The Nick Agency, Derby Liquor, Quality Alum & Siding. Dollar Saver Food, Harv and Bill Steakhouse, Catfish Lane, Sue’s Little Pesos Mexican, Greyhound Bus Terminal, Evans Builders and Supply, Ace Hardware, Daylight Donuts, Wooten Construction, WD Gifts, Brown’s Shoe Fit, M&D Star Drug, Key Rexall, The Dowery, Brown’s Shoes (yes there were two), Summers Paint and Carpet, Funtime Pools and Spas, Certified Appliance Repair, Ryder Rents Trucks, Skate Time, B&B Chainsaw and Mower Repair, City Glass, Torbett Printing, The Copy Shop, Zanadu, Okmulgee Cycle Service, Okmulgee Country Club. I’m sure I forgot some big ones or the list I found left out or left off many other businesses that came and went over the last twenty-five years. I wonder what our City sales tax collections would look like if all these stores were still here. I’m sure many left for retirement, some just got tired of the grind, but I’m guessing many left because many of their old clients took their purchasing dollars to Tulsa. An interesting economic point: The OADC commissioned a study back in 2018 about the grocery store business here in Okmulgee. Did you know that the average Okmulgee grocery shopper purchases (per person) are essentially the same as they are in Tulsa. Shop Local Folks. Please!

What’s going on in the world of Economic Development:

A large percentage of the Requests For Proposals (RFPs) we have received and submitted our local information on have been in the EV (electric vehicle) industry. Example the new EV Van plant that is going into the Mid America Industrial Park. A number of battery factories are looking for new homes, metal fabrication, and aviation, both manufacturing and repair facilities. IT, computer programming and software development are still strong sectors. During the fiscal year, the OADC received 63 requests for information and/or a proposal. We responded to just over half of those projects. If you’re wondering why we did not answer all of those we received? Fair question. Most were for companies looking for an existing building. Several were wanting buildings as large as 1.5 million sq ft. Sorry but Okmulgee is fresh out of million sq. ft. buildings. Four of those projects were looking for an industrial park with over 2,000 acres, again, Okmulgee is not a player. We have other problems that knock us out of contention, such as a lack of adequate streets to get the prospective new employees in and out of the area. An example is 20th Street: as busy as it is already, what would happen if we added another 600 to 800 workers in that part of town. Yeah, we thought so too.

So what’s the good news?

Our response efforts have gotten Okmulgee to the second level with four companies, two of those have reached stage 3 and one is at stage 4. On that project we will have to be on our toes if we get a site visit. We will have to work closely with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to ensure a safe factory and working conditions. The company does NOT make chemicals, but they use a lot of hazardous chemicals in their manufacturing process. I’m not saying they are not a sound and careful company, I’m saying we have to examine every proposed deal very carefully. Our work is not just about jobs. They would have hundreds of employees, but the area we would locate them in is the Okmulgee Business Complex and we are already in the planning stages for a new road system in the industrial park and leading into the OBC. Busy and exciting times are ahead, so mow your lawn and pick up the litter, we have guests coming to town.

Overall a great year, even without the pandemic. As the sports world says Let’s Just Keep Grinding.

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