$13 million OKC land deal aimed at luring business
Milo’s Ice Tea looked at Oklahoma City last year for a site to build a $60 million plant the company ultimately chose to instead place in the Tulsa suburb of Owasso.
The plant, which opened in September and will employ 160, is one of the latest additions to a growing list of lost prospects maintained by Jeff Seymour, vice president of economic development at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
In a sprawling city of 621 square miles, the company could not find a suitable location.
“They looked hard,” Seymour said. “We’re excited for them to land in Owasso. But they looked a lot at Oklahoma City. We learned from their consultant that not having land that fit their needs and that they liked was a big determining factor in not choosing Oklahoma City.”
The Oklahoma City Council is being asked to improve the odds at attracting new jobs by allocating $13 million in economic development bond money to buy 577 acres near the closed Crossroads Mall from the Commissioners of the Land Office.
If the deal is done, the transaction would go through the Oklahoma Industries Authority which is overseen by The Alliance for Economic Development and its director Cathy O’Connor.
“If the city council approves the allocation, we will enter into an exchange agreement with CLO (Commissioners of the Land Office) where they will go find property they want to buy,” O’Connor said. "They will use it to buy property that generates an income to support general education in Oklahoma. That’s what they do.”
O’Connor said the transaction, had it gone through earlier in the year, might have funded the state agency’s recent purchase of the SandRidge headquarters.
Seymour said 146 industrial projects were lost to other cities over the past five years. Of those, 23 cited lack of adequate sites for not choosing Oklahoma City.
In addition to losing Milo's, Seymour reported two other recent losses due to site issues. One company looked at the city earlier this year and is preparing to build a $40 million plant that will employ 135. The other lost prospect looked at the city in fall of 2018 and was preparing to build a $170 million plant that will employ 180.
“When we compare ourselves to other markets that have available continuous properties where they can expand as needs warrant it’s pretty spotty here,” Seymour said. “There isn’t a lot of space around Tinker and the west side of town.”
It’s not just about having 50-acre or greater sites, Seymour said.
Milo's Ice Tea announced its selection, built and opened its plant in just 18 months. Companies like Milo's are not seen as being willing to wait for a city to extend water, wastewater and utilities to a site.
Add in access to major transportation networks and the choices in Oklahoma City are slim, Seymour said.
“When companies come to us, they want something ready to go,” Seymour said. “They don't have time to wait because the clock has already started on the site selection process.”
The 577 acres being purchased by the city are located near Interstate 240 and Interstate 35 and close to railway tracks. The area has access to existing water, wastewater and other utilities.
Seymour sees the property accommodating one large operation and multiple smaller prospects.
Voters twice approved economic development funding which traditionally has been used to incentivize creation of new jobs. The fund also has been used for business continuity grants and loans given to businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
“We appreciate that the city is willing to think about a project like this,” Seymour said. “It’s a little bit different than offering incentives.”