Recruiting and developing business is not just a larger community endeavor. A number of small communities in northwest Oklahoma are working on economic development and are finding success.
Watonga, in Blaine County, has two projects ongoing, according to Todd Lafferty, member of Watonga Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee.
The Watonga chamber took the lead in a project to list vacant buildings and their dimensions, so if someone is looking at Watonga for relocation a list of those available buildings will be provided.
The chamber also is involved in a sales tax project currently being reviewed by the city attorney. Lafferty said if an existing business wants to make permanent improvements exceeding $5,000 it can apply for a program that could return a portion of its sales tax earned from those improvements.
The sales tax income of a business is recorded, and if the business’ improvement earns extra sales tax, that amount, above the baseline tax, will be rebated to the business for six years or until the improvement is paid for.
If sales tax does not increase, no rebate is received. Only one project at a time is eligible.
If the business applying is new, the city will figure the first year’s sales tax as a baseline.
Watonga also is a member of Central Oklahoma Regional Development group or CORD. Other member cities include Calumet, El Reno, Geary, Hinton, Kingfisher, Minco, Okarche, Piedmont and Union City, said Gene Pflughoft, executive director.
“You find gems in every community. With our base we are a microcosm of the whole state with both urban and rural areas,” he said. Pflughoft said he tries to teach people to think economic development.
He follows a four-step plan.
Step 1: Work to keep existing businesses. There is nothing worse than to have a business move out or close and no one knows about it, he said.
Step 2: Help existing businesses expand. Pflughoft holds courses on self-development, supervision and customer service to help businesses to grow. One business in his group has been purchasing a product from out of state. Pflughoft discovered a machine shop in another community that could manufacture the product and now one business is buying from another business in his group.
“Two member of CORD are buying from one another,” he said.
Step 3: Entrepreneurship. Pflughoft said he has helped more than 700 businesses start since 1990, including a $2,500 petting zoo and an $80 million soy diesel plant. He thinks there are good opportunities in northwest Oklahoma.
“I always ask where they want to be in five years,” he said.
Pflughoft has started an entrepreneurship club in each community that teaches what it takes to start and operate a business.
“If one person starts a business, others start thinking they can, too,” he said. “Look around and see what your community needs.”
Step 4: Recruiting business. Pflughoft said he would prefer growing a local business, but there always are companies willing to relocate. The key, however, is businesses must be developed.
“Every community has unique needs. Some are growing so fast they need retail businesses to come in,” he said. “Sam Walton started out with one store. They don’t start as mega-companies.
Pflughoft said someone apologized to him recently because they were “only a mom and pop” store. They employ two people.
“I told them not to apologize because they supported three families,” he said. “They are a good, stable company.”Ⱐ