Ardmore Development Authority interim president and CEO Brian Carter is like many people who have moved into the community during recent years. Taking a job with a local industry, Carter began to see what is special about Ardmore. He saw a diverse business and industry base that helped Ardmore weather an economic storm in which other communities foundered. He saw a community dedicated to a proactive approach to growth. And in 2012, Carter was given the opportunity to play a significant role in Ardmore's progress when he took a position with the ADA.
"We are striving for the ideal of an unusually vibrant community," Carter says. "Rebekah (Carter's wife) and I have lived in Ardmore for six years. After two years, we said, 'This place is special,' and we decided that raising our family here was a great idea. And then, I had the chance to work for a team that makes it happen."
The citizens of Ardmore will have to decide whether to continue the mission of developing Ardmore's proactive ability to attract industry and growth on Sept. 10 during a special election for a ¼-cent sales tax renewal. The tax has been in place for more than 20 years, and has been crucial in not only promoting Ardmore, but making sure Ardmore is competitive with other communities that are desperate to add industry and other jobs.
Carter said the ADA allows the community to be intentional about its development.
"There are things the private sector can deliver on its own, and there are things the government can develop on its own," Carter said. "But there is a zone when there needs to be a cooperative effort to bring it off. For example, it's not that the city can't have a runway to develop the place out as a job creator. But as a value proposition, it needs marketing."
Carter said the loss of tax funding would severely hurt the ADA's ability to continue its mission on a proactive level. And, more importantly, it would place Ardmore at a disadvantage.
"You would, in effect, be firing your city sales team," Carter says. "You look at Schwans, which has a great product. But without a sales force visiting and reacting to sales calls, their products stay on the shelf.
"You need to have a team, and the ADA is your economic team. It represents Ardmore and its ambition to be everything it can be and everything it should be."
The loss of the tax would be felt in the city's national and international sales presence, Carter says. The ADA has been a major partner with the Oklahoma State Department of Commerce through its ability to market itself and draw projects, which have benefited not only the city, but also the area.
The tax will expire this month after it failed passage in the November 2012 election. The setback will leave the ADA with a budget running in a deficit, despite significant cuts.
"Our mission was achievable because we had the funding to achieve it," Carter says. "That mission must adjust without the funding."
And in the meantime, communities around the state and area will have fully funded economic authorities to pick up the slack. At a time when competition for higher-paying jobs is at an all-time high, those communities will have fully functioning mechanisms in place to land those industries.
"Duncan, Durant and Ponca City have a ½-cent sales tax, and we are a ¼-cent sales tax," Carter says. "These towns are hungry and they are making decisions Ardmore was making 30 years ago. They are on the field, and next week, voters will decide whether to stay on the field or not."
There have been well-publicized issues within the ADA in the past year, and Carter acknowledges the criticisms. He says a yes vote does not mean there are not concerns. But it allows the ADA to continue its job to deliver a climate for business.
"I think it's important to keep in mind that someone could vote yes to renew this funding, but still have criticisms that they want to express," Carter says. "That's OK. It's like a football program. It doesn't make you a bad fan if you disagree with a decision made on or off the field. This election is about keeping the program in place. I've had many people come to me with criticisms and concerns. At the staff and board level, we also have criticisms and concerns — let's fix, solve and change as needed. The election is about maintaining the program, and a yes vote doesn't mean that a person can't or shouldn't express their concerns, either now or in the future."