Last week Oklahoma lost out again on a major economic development project, despite having ponied up more than $700 million in incentives. Panasonic announced that a town near the Kansas City metropolitan area (on the Kansas side) will be the new home of the massive battery plant expected to support a growing electrical vehicle industry.

It’s the second time in just a matter of months that Oklahoma has been informed it came up short for a major project. Back in December, Tesla announced it would not locate its headquarters in Tulsa, but in Austin, Texas, instead.

This has to be a gut punch to Oklahoma development officials who have worked hard to provide good, but fair, incentive packages for these big projects, only to become the second runner-up in the beauty contest.

I know how much it hurts. I’ve been on the receiving end of bad economic development news. Back in the early 1990s, I was mayor of Pittsburg, Kan., which was in the running with two other area Kansas communities for the location of an assembly plant to build single-engine Cessna airplanes. A group of us, including economic development and city officials, spent weeks crafting an incentive package we felt would be a good fit, but also fair to the taxpayers. We were very sure of our offer and felt confident we would win the contract.

But, we didn’t get the plant. Instead, the plant located in Independence, Kan., a town some 75 miles to the west of our community with population nearly 10,000 smaller. We had proposed a good plan, but we didn’t “give away the farm,” so to speak. I don’t remember what Independence offered, other than more incentive money. Nothing else Independence had could really compare to us, at least in our opinions.

The plant in Independence has had its ups and downs over the years, but it has provided high-paying jobs for the town of about 9,000.

The economic development game isn’t for sissies. Anytime a community, or state, has an opportunity to go for high-stakes projects like the Panasonic project, they are going to pull out all the stops to get the project. However, it’s always highly competitive, and it’s not easy to win these big projects.

So, now, Oklahoma and its lawmakers and civic and business leaders need to figure out what they must do to win again. They have to go back and revisit every aspect of the proposal and also get frank feedback from the companies themselves on where the proposals fell short.

Just as what happened back when United Airlines jilted Oklahoma City in favor of Indianapolis for a maintenance facility, Oklahoma City had to do some serious soul searching. Thus began the OKC renaissance.

We all know there is a tremendous amount of workforce development and growth and workforce needs across the state. As the lieutenant governor said in Enid on Monday, having the population and the trained workforce or training available is key.

The work done on the Panasonic project will not go to waste. This proposal could be repurposed in some form for another battery plant or another opportunity altogether.

Oklahoma City had to address serious criticism that the city just didn’t have the cultural, social and educational amenities to land the United Airlines project back in the '90s. Whatever our state officials learn from the loss of these projects, they need to be willing to address and make the changes necessary to be prepared and more competitive.

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Allen is publisher and editor for the Enid News & Eagle.
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