Skip Porter isn’t peddling a magic elixir on the town square that will cure the state’s economic woes, but he does dispense some blunt advice to Oklahoma’s economic development leaders: Stop chasing companies from California or Illinois or Texas that promise jobs in exchange for millions of dollars in tax breaks or other incentives to relocate here. Take those dollars and build an endowment to fund Oklahoma technologies and entrepreneurs. “We need to invest in ourselves and get over (the mind-set) that we need to recruit the crumbs leftover from Texas or California; I’m tired of that,” said Porter, the University of Oklahoma’s vice president for technology development and a former Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Technology during the Keating administration. “Furthermore, it doesn’t work. What do you do? You spend millions and you get jobs for 400 or 500 people. You give tax breaks and you buy all of that. What was it, the United plant that we didn’t get and it went to Indiana? What happened to that? It went bankrupt. How much money did they spend?” Porter made the comments before last week’s announcement that China-based Nanjing Automobile Group will bring an automobile production plant to Oklahoma that also will include an engineering center that will be located at OU and house at least 35 jobs. Porter is a proponent of funding Gov. Brad Henry’s $1 billion EDGE endowment to fund Oklahoma-based technology and biomedical research. “If you take the hundreds of millions that people are willing to put on the table to attract a few jobs and you invest that in your own talent and your own technologies, you will build not only companies, you will build industries,” Porter said. Porter receives little argument from Amy Polonchek, interim executive director of the state Commerce Department, the agency in charge of luring the United Airlines and the Dells of the world to locate on Oklahoma soil. Only, the build-it-yourself mentality is part of the overall strategy, she said. “I absolutely agree that we need to invest in ourselves,” Polonchek said. “But I think there is more. I think we need to do all of it. If we want Oklahoma to thrive and expand, become more prosperous, we need to invest in ourselves and our entrepreneurs; we have to help our existing businesses become competitive and profitable and grow here. “But we also need to go after companies that are looking for new locations. We absolutely are a big supporter of the EDGE endowment, of resources to entrepreneur development, but we need all three of them.” But Porter said Oklahoma sells itself short, throwing millions in incentive dollars at prospects from other states. With the right investment in the right technology - nanotechnology, for instance - Oklahoma can create its own version of Silicon Valley. “If the people in Washington can do it, if people in California can do it, why can’t people in Oklahoma do it?” he asked. “There are just as bright a people here as there are anywhere in the country.”
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