Editors note: This is the first in an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Ardmore and Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma.
Q: How do you think Ardmore has changed or grown since you became city manager?
A: “I like to think we're still in the progress of developing and expanding our business and industrial base. I know the Ardmore Development Authority does a great job trying to attract industry to town, and the city works hard on the retail side. I think we have added lots of new retail and we are going to continue to strive in that direction.
“We have several big projects in the works along those same lines, with the family entertainment center which is going to certainly give more opportunity for kids, and even adults, to have somewhere to go for some fun activities. We have the streetscape project on East Main Street that we hope will revitalize downtown and encourage growth and development in the downtown area, which we want to do. Ardmore Main Street (Authority) works hard with us on that. Then we're trying to attract a new shopping center out on 12th Avenue, which we think will bring more retail that the citizens want to see.”
Q: Are there any certain businesses you hope to see at the new shopping center?
A: “Well yes, and I wish I could name them right now, but I can't. But hopefully we will be able to do that soon. There are some contract negotiations ongoing on which retailers we will actually get. They like to do their own announcements, so we want to respect that and at the right time, hopefully, we have a really attractive list to pass along to the citizens. We think they will be really happy.”
Q: What kind of growth do you see for Ardmore over the next five years?
A: “I think Rockford Road will develop all the way out. I think 12th Avenue will see more development, and honestly I think some areas along Veterans Boulevard and State Highway 142 will start to develop more. One thing we really would like to see, which the commission did approve some money for, is to bring some infrastructure like water and sewer to (Interstate-35) Exit 29. Which is the only Ardmore exit without any businesses because there are no utilities there. So we hope to get Exit 29 opened up for retail or whatever kind of business we can get located in there. We have four exits and we want to maximize all four to maximize sales tax and to be convenient for interstate travelers to get them to stop in Ardmore and spend some money in Ardmore. I would also like to see more retail and commercial development on East Main Street and along the Sam Noble Parkway corridor.”
Q: What about in 10 years, can we see that far ahead?
A: “Ten years is harder to predict because we don't know the economic conditions. Online sales are going to impact all cities and all businesses and we have to be ready for that. But, I know that Ardmore will continue to be a regional powerhouse for industrial, retail, and commercial development, offering citizens a great place to live, work and play.”
Q: Do you think that the state's budget cuts will affect Ardmore?
A: “It certainly could. There are road projects that the state has ongoing in our area that I'm sure will be impacted. Ultimately, we're all affected by what the state does in some way. Whether it's through education or cuts to the health department or any other service the state offers at the local level. It will certainly impact those services.”
Q: What do you think poses the biggest challenge, overall, for the people of Ardmore?
A: “I think it's challenging to welcome change and growth sometimes. Some people like it like it is and when you talk about growth, and change, and doing things different than we have always done them, sometimes people have a hard time accepting it. So, I think the challenge is to have an open mind about the growth of Ardmore and to accept that we can do things different and still be great. Ardmore is a great place. We're lucky to have the great citizens we have that get behind efforts to improve Ardmore. We're really lucky to have the foundations that Ardmore has and I don't want to name any because I will leave one out, but we have a lot of great foundations in Ardmore. They certainly make Ardmore great because they all are very charitable and giving to the city and the projects in the city. Sometimes it's challenging but ultimately we all work together to improve our city.”
Q: What will this year's city budget look like?
A: “There are some cuts. We definitely lowered our expectations for sales tax collections again. We did last year and we only met our expectations for two months. We lowered our projection for sales tax and we have a hiring freeze in place for some positions and we're trying to protect public safety. It's a challenging budget year, but we think that we have presented a budget to the commission that we can all live with and that the department directors can still carry out all their missions and services to the citizens. No services will be cut. We've just asked them to be more efficient, more effective and sometimes do that with less people. We have really good city employees that do a lot to make Ardmore great and we are depending on them to help us see through this tough time.”
Q:What is the biggest challenge you face being the city manager?
A: “The biggest challenge I face is hiring good qualified people for our city positions. We have some positions that it's a real challenge to try to fill them. I think that's a challenge for most employers in Ardmore is to find good qualified people.”
Q: Are there any industries you hope to see come to Ardmore?
A:“We have a diverse industrial base. I think that's healthy and good. You never just want to have one industry your whole community relies on, and I think we have a really diverse base. I would like to see more diversity and maybe more higher tech businesses come in. Also, things that will help us develop the Ardmore Airpark. I know the ADA works hard on trying to attract people out there.”