Economic development isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Some areas offer resources and amenities that other cities, states and countries are simply unable to provide, and those same areas may also offer preferable tax-codes and regulatory freedoms. When combined, these factors can play an immense role in an area’s ability to remain competitive in attracting new businesses.
These same factors have landed Ardmore and southern Oklahoma on the shortlist for businesses and industries looking for areas of potential growth.
“We are working through a batch of leads and investigating those companies to see which ones fit and which ones make sense for Ardmore” Mita Bates, president and CEO of the Ardmore Development Authority said Monday during the ADA board meeting.
Early efforts include a number of recent visits from prospective businesses as well as interest from a start-up company and a number of local businesses looking at the possibility of expanding.
“We have been very impressed in the interest shown, especially in the holiday season,” Bates said. “One of our greatest assets continues to be our proximity to the north Texas market and our overall tax structure is still very pro-business.”
Despite the early interest, the timeline for any new business or the expansion of existing business could take months or even years to be realized.
“When people are looking at you, you are going to land a business. It’s like a long-term relationship,” Bates said. “These decisions aren’t made overnight, it’s just a process, but we are very pleased with the interest in Ardmore and southern Oklahoma.”
Those relationships, currently in various stages, have opened up a plethora of possibilities for southern Oklahoma.
“Ardmore is definitely on the radar for several types (of businesses), anything from small to some nice size potential new industries,” Bates said. “We’re also working with some existing business that are looking at the potential to grow.”
Bates said that current efforts are being adapted to maximize the existing educational and workforce development resources available in Ardmore and the surrounding area while continuing to meet the needs of existing businesses and potential new businesses.
“If you can grow an existing business by 2-3 employees, and do 5-10 of those, that’s the same as bringing in a 50-employee industry,” Bates said. “It’s usually much more efficient and ends up costing less as well. If you look at statistics, we are built on small business. If we can help our small businesses, then it’s a win for Ardmore and it’s a win for us.”
According to the US Small Business Administration, small businesses make up nearly 50 percent of the US workforce, with businesses with 17 or less employees making up more than 17 percent of the workforce.
Despite the favorable tax climate and the strong interest shown, Ardmore and southern Oklahoma still face the same challenges that most US cities currently face.
“Our biggest challenge is of no surprise. It’s the skilled workforce. It’s a national issue, having those skills to match up with what current businesses and industries need,” Bates said. “The good news for Ardmore is that we have great cooperation, so we can have those conversations so we know what those skill sets are and can work within the educational system to make sure we are producing that skilled workforce.”
Bates said current workforce efforts would include a renewed emphasis on workforce readiness through programs designed to educate 8th and 9th grade students on what potential opportunities exist in the area after graduating from high school.
“It’s like deciding on what path you want. ‘It’s like wow, I’ve always enjoyed mechanical things, so I have options. I can go to the career tech and get a certification in perhaps mechatronics and have wonderful job opportunities,’” Bates said. “’Or maybe I want to be an engineer and take the college path.’ It helps them explore and see what those options are.”