NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Stitt favors state cash account to lure businesses


During his first two months in office, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s call sheet has included dozens of businesses the state Department of Commerce has identified as candidates for relocating to Oklahoma. The list of prospective job creators ranges from technology firms to manufacturing plants.

A call from the governor or even a dinner hosted at the Oklahoma City mansion can help sweeten the pitch to a business owner.

But Stitt knows businesses are also looking for financial incentives when deciding among states, and the governor is ready to use such tools aggressively.

“Being able to attract business today requires different incentives,” said Mike Jackson, executive vice president of government and political affairs for the State Chamber.

“The governor is going to want to take advantage of that tool in trying to recruit businesses, which is a major part of his job,”

The incentive Stitt fancies most is the Quick Action Closing Fund, a Legislature-approved pot of money the governor can use freely to cover infrastructure and development costs for new businesses.

The House has already approved an immediate injection of $5 million into the fund, which still requires Senate approval. Once the money is approved, Stitt plans to tap the fund.

“We are talking with companies right now where it’s down to us and another state,” said Donelle Harder, Stitt’s spokeswoman.

Harder said Stitt would like to see millions more in the fund in the coming years.

Stitt has enviously referred to similar funds in other states, including the $609 million Texas has spent in its own closing fund, and $120 million in Arkansas.

But critics say it can act as a sort of slush fund for political supporters, with little transparency.

Former Gov. Mary Fallin distributed $11 million to several companies who expanded business in the state, including General Electric and Boeing, two companies that also gave thousands of dollars to her reelection campaign.

Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, who voted against the additional $5 million for the fund last month, said it isn’t as important as supporters make it out to be.

He pointed to a Macy’s distribution center in Tulsa that received $1.5 million from Fallin, which was just a small part of the nearly $27 million it received in various other state and local tax incentives.

“To stand here and say this is an essential fund that produces thousands of jobs is not being honest with all of the numbers,” Perryman said.

Supporters believe every dollar counts in the race to attract new business. They said the incentives come with specific conditions that allow for the state to take back the money if they aren’t met.

State statute allows the governor to expend the funds for “purposes of economic development and related infrastructure development” when doing so would “likely be a determining factor in locating a high-impact business project or facility in Oklahoma or in retaining such project or facility within the state.”

Disbursement of the funds require an analysis by the Department of Commerce, which also establishes conditions for payment. The governor appoints the director of the Department of Commerce. Last month, Stitt announced Brent Kisling as his pick. Kisling was formerly the executive director of the Enid Regional Development Alliance, a nonprofit that worked to connect prospective businesses with local tax incentives.

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›