The Norman Transcript

April 24, 2013

Economic policy gets green light

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Economic development in Norman has traveled a long and rocky road, but the Norman City Council adopted a formal economic policy Tuesday night.

The policy passed 8 to 1. Ward 4 Council member Greg Jungman voted against the policy.

“We can’t prove that offering economic incentives actually pays off for the community,” said Dr. Cynthia Rogers, an associate professor in economics.

Rogers is among a strong handful or two of Norman residents who believe quality of life draws business more appropriately than offering incentives.

“They’re going to sell us the dream, and we’re going to want to believe it,” Rogers said. “It’s hard to say ‘no’ to someone saying they’re going to bring 100 jobs to Norman.”

Rogers urged caution so the city can “make good gambles” in moving toward the future.

“Up until this point, the city has not had any mechanism for making economic decisions,” Council member Tom Kovach said. “I think this is a great step in the right direction.”

Economic Development Policy components include goals of retaining and expanding existing business as well as attracting targeted industries that will invest in the community and create quality jobs.

Each project will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and businesses must meet specific criteria to be considered for any city-sponsored economic development tool.

Supporting business includes homegrown entrepreneurship through “additional business incubators and microenterprises that will contribute to a diverse local economy and provide new opportunities for the area,” according to the newly adopted policy.

The policy also sets creating public/private partnerships to benefit Norman as a goal.

Tools in the economic development toolbag include, but are not necessarily limited to:

· Streamlining permitting

· Fee or excise tax waiver or reduction

· Facilitation of partnership with “education resources for training and employment testing”

· Abatement of property taxes — the city will pay on behalf of the company

· Infrastructure

· Support for start-ups

· Revolving loans

· Technical support

·  Sales tax rebate

· Tax increment finance districts

· Public financing vehicle for favorable loan structuring

· Lease of publicly owned facilities

In other city business, the council approved a resolution adopting drought tolerant and/or native plants for all city plantings.

The ordinance also “encourages the use of sustainable drought resistant or Oklahoma Proven plant species that require minimal water,” for new development, according to city staff reports. However, the ordinance does not require property owners other than the city to use drought tolerant plants.

A potentially controversial zoning request by Rose Rock School at 1515 W. Main St. was withdrawn.

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