Economic development project

A truck passes the Goodyear plant on Goodyear Boulevard. Work to upgrade that arterial, to include extending it north to create a west industrial park bypass, is the top priority for infrastructure work that would be possible through economic development funding designated in the proposed 2020 Capital Improvements Program.

Lawton industrial development experts said the 2020 Capital Improvements Program will provide a dedicated revenue stream that will help them achieve their goal: growing jobs and growing the local economy.

The 2020 Capital Improvements Program (CIP), which voters will decide Feb. 11, would end the 2015 Sales Tax Extension and the 2016 CIP on March 31. It would replace those two sales tax programs with a new program that will keep their projects while funding new ones with the additional revenue generated by extending the existing sales tax through Dec. 31, 2034. Those new projects include a $29 million allocation for industrial development, specifically, infrastructure and projects “in furtherance of industrial development in accordance with the city’s industrial development policy.

While the 2016 CIP has a category for infrastructure that supports industrial development, there is no designated amount because industrial development “shares” $17 million with Information Technology projects.

The new CIP would designate a specific amount for industrial development, the first time significant funding has been available to address projects that would help the community in its search for new industry and support of existing ones, said Brad Cooksey, president of the Lawton Economic Development Corporation (LEDC).

LEDC will be the lead agency that will spend those economic development dollars, said Mayor Stan Booker, explaining that entity will develop a proposal for a project, then bring it to the City Council for approval. It’s the same technique set for expenditures of economic development dollars in the 2016 CIP, he said, explaining, for example, that it was LEDC board members that brought forward the idea of rebuilding Ard Street and Neal Boulevard within the industrial park, as well as the idea of an industrial park by-pass to link Goodyear Boulevard to Rogers Lane/U.S. 62.

Booker said the council will remain an integral part of the economic development funding process.

“The council can decide on where we can do that,” he said.

Booker said the argument for allocation of economic development dollars is the same used for the 2020 CIP as a whole: it helps the city offset the challenges caused by declining population, most notably, fewer people spending dollars means less tax revenue available for critical governmental operations.

Booker said the CIP allocation will allow the city to invest in the infrastructure needed to support economic development. And, industrial growth will bring new jobs and new wages to the community.

“This is for industrial development, not retail,” Booker said, adding the difference is that industrial development builds a stronger economic base because it provides higher-paying jobs. “That’s very important.”

Luring those new jobs means offering “shovel ready” sites that developers can move into and begin immediate construction because the infrastructure they need — water, sewer, natural gas, electricity, rail, streets —already are there. While LEDC had a preliminary estimate of the infrastructure needed for its west Lawton sites when city officials were exploring the idea of an extended CIP last summer, it now has a better handle on costs because of analysis completed by Garver and EST, private engineering firms.

Those hard figures will allow LEDC to make plans, as far as setting infrastructure, Cooksey said. That is important because it will affect the whole community, he said, noting the designation of specific funding “will let us do more things,” in terms of attracting new industry while supporting and growing existing industries.

“Now we have a true opportunity for growth,” he said. “It will let us set priorities.”

LEDC’s top priority remains Goodyear Boulevard, Cooksey said. While that work will repair existing Goodyear Boulevard between West Lee Boulevard and old Cache Road, LEDC also is looking at the concept of an industrial by-pass, one that will extend Goodyear Boulevard, sweeping it north and east to link into the Rogers Lane/U.S. 62 ramp on Lawton’s west side.

Other road projects also are on the drawing board, to include upgrades to secondary roads within the existing industrial park and a Garver proposal to extend West Gore Boulevard beyond its termination at Southwest 82nd Street, into the new/existing west industrial parks.

But, Cooksey said LEDC’s priority remains the Goodyear Boulevard by-pass. While the total estimated cost of $38 million seems daunting, CIP dollars will lessen that burden. Specifically, CIP money will become local matching funds to lure state/federal transportation funding, Cooksey said.

“The pressure is off the city,” he said, explaining LEDC officials have been told Lawton has a good shot at federal transportation grants, but only if the city can provide matching funds.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of that project,” Cooksey said, adding LEDC has set Goodyear Boulevard as its top infrastructure priority. “It affects current businesses out there.”

But, LEDC also will be looking at infrastructure projects as a whole to determine other goals once funding is available.

“LEDC wants to be as transparent as possible,” he said.

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