NORMAN — City council members say they hope a new policy that allows them to offer economic development incentives will attract new businesses to Norman.
The council voted 8-1 Tuesday to approve the policy. Councilman Greg Jungman voted against it.
“We are literally hanging out a welcome sign for firms to come to our community and say, ‘Well, you're going to have to write me a check or you're going to have to give me a break on my taxes or you're going to have to give me something,'” Jungman said.
Giving incentives sometimes works out, he said, “but often it means that one business just displaces another firm that might have come to Norman.”
Councilman Chad Williams disagreed.
“I think it says we're open for business, that we're ready to compete, that we welcome you to Norman. The potential for this is great,” he said.
New businesses bring more jobs and people to Norman, growing the tax base and improving the quality of life, Williams said.
The policy allows council members to offer something as simple as streamlining the permit process all the way to helping businesses attain favorable loan structuring, Assistant City Attorney Kathryn Walker said.
Companies wanting to take advantage of the incentives would have to submit proposals, and each proposal would be evaluated on its individual merits, she said.
A performance agreement would be required, with specific performance goals outlined. Penalties would be written into the agreement if performance goals are not met.
Councilman Tom Kovach said the policy is “a step in the right direction. Up until this point, the city has not had any mechanism for making economic decisions. This is a way to get good information and make sound decisions.”
In the past, he said, “we've had somebody coming to town and telling us this is going to be great, and we didn't know. We just had to trust them.”
Hopes and dreams
Cindy Rogers, an associate professor of economics at the University of Oklahoma, said companies are going to “sell us a dream, and we're going to want to believe it. It's hard to say no to someone saying they're going to bring 100 jobs to Norman.”
Offering economic development incentives has not proven to be effective in other cities, Rogers said. A better approach to attracting businesses would be to improve the quality of life in the city, she said.
“Make Norman a place they want to come to, and they will come here,” Rogers said.
The council approved an ordinance establishing a seven-member economic development advisory board comprised of volunteers with expertise in economic development, banking and related areas.
The advisory board will make recommendations to the economic development trust authority, a public trust established last year that holds powers to provide financial incentives for attracting quality jobs to Norman. Council members serve as trustees of the authority.
The economic development policy provides the guidelines the council would use before approving any incentives, Councilman Roger Gallagher said.
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said she thinks relatively few cases will come before the council, and that any requests for incentives “should be approached with a great deal of skepticism.”
In other business, a rezoning request from Shanah Ahmadi that would allow for a private school at 1515 W Main St. was withdrawn. A large number of residents in the neighborhood opposed the request. They said the school would cause traffic problems on Main and on adjacent residential streets.