The Norman Transcript

March 14, 2014

Norman’s education-centered economy key to growing economy, experts say

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The education cluster in and around Norman is key to the city’s ability to attract quality jobs to the area, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce Larry Parman said.

Parman and several other regional and local experts spoke on economic development Thursday during the 2014 Economic Development Summit at Embassy Suites in Norman.

The University of Oklahoma, Norman’s high-quality public schools and the proximity of area training and education centers such as Moore Norman Technology Center make the city a draw for economy builders who want an educated work force and high quality of life, Parman said.

Parman was the keynote speaker at the summit, which is an annual event hosted by the Norman Economic Development Coalition.

Other speakers included Stuart Graham, vice president of CB Richard Ellis. Graham spoke about trends in the retail market for the Oklahoma City metro area, which includes Norman.

Graham said with the University North Park Corporate Centre and Industrial Park coming online soon, businesses will be drawn to the area. Having building sites ready to go next to OU’s Max Westheimer Airport creates an easy choice for businesses looking for a new home.

“You’re going to start to have larger corporations like GE coming to Norman now that the product is available,” Graham said of the business park.

Both Graham and Parman said competition is steep for businesses that bring jobs to a location. That means there are some highly subsidized markets out there.

Parman said there are two essential theories in how to compete for businesses that are job creators.

One is to be a magnet. While high quality of life, an educated work force and low cost of living are desirable elements, policy creates a further draw.

Highly regulated states and cities with high taxes have to use the alternative: they buy businesses through the use of incentives.

“Oklahoma, at this point and time, is pursuing a combination of approaches,” Parman said.

Parman said that capital doesn’t know boundaries. That money flows where the opportunities are ripe for business to invest. Creating a business-friendly environment through state policy and creating incentives allow for a two-prong approach to help Oklahoma compete.

Getting large jobmakers here is one thing. Bringing in retail is another. Retail will go where there is a market for it.

Graham said it’s important to attract Internet-resistant retail — those are not book or video stores or even office supply, all of which can be ordered online. Those types of retail are moving to a smaller brick and mortar footprint. Internet-resistant retail includes restaurants.

“Those retailers are really counting on the experience in the store,” Graham said in describing Internet-resistant retail in response to a question from the audience. Graham included places like Cabela’s and health and dental care outlets.

“Health delivery is moving more toward a retail environment,” he said. “We’re having to make consumer-driven decisions about health care. I do think it is a viable retail tenant.”

However, location and placement can be key with selling retail space to medical and dental facilities. Health care facilities may not be suitable next to certain other retail or restaurant space, for example.

Cities that want to think long term can protect retail space from staying vacant once it’s older by keeping standards high when that space is built.

“You be careful with your architectural standards,” Graham said. “You be careful with your permitting.”

A city requiring higher standards might have to provide incentives or other help for low overhead businesses needing to get into those spaces, he said.

Other speakers at the summit included Barry Murphy, managing director of Cushman and Wakefield; Robin Wiens, chair of Norman Regional Hospital Authority; Dr. Joe Siano, Norman Public Schools superintendent; Jane Bowen, Moore Norman Technology Center superintendent; Daniel Pullin, vice president for Strategic Planning and Economic Development of the University of Oklahoma; City Manager Steve Lewis; and NEDC Executive Director Don Wood.

Joy Hampton




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