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Lawmakers probe Oklahoma's business retention efforts as Ardmore tire plant to close

Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, lead a Senate hearing on economic development and business recruitment.
Carmen Forman
Oklahoma Voice
Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond, and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, lead a Senate hearing on economic development and business recruitment.

State senators on Tuesday explored the conditions that led a global tire company to decide to close its Ardmore factory and probed economic development officials on solutions to retain businesses in Oklahoma.

The Senate Select Committee on Business Retention and Economic Development delved into Michelin’s announcement last week that it will close its 53-year-old Ardmore plant that employs 1,400 workers. The news that the plant will close by 2025 came as a shock to state leaders and many in the community.

Although state lawmakers and economic development officials discussed company recruitment and retention for more than two hours, they walked away from the meeting without articulating concrete plans on how to improve Oklahoma’s business climate.

Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond, said senators will soon introduce some “big and bold ideas” on how to improve state economic development efforts, but she declined to provide details.

Thompson, the committee’s vice chair, said Tuesday’s conversation made it clear there is some kind of breakdown in the state’s business retention efforts.

“We have to acknowledge that our structure is not working,” she said. “I liken it to we’re all on the same lake. We’re all in different boats, and we’re all rowing in different directions.”

Bill Murphy, president and CEO of the Ardmore Development Authority, said sometimes a community and state’s best efforts can’t prevent a global company like Michelin from closing a facility due to changing market conditions. Michelin is the city’s largest employer.

The authority is in the process of forming a task force to help transition as the company winds down its operations, he said. Murphy also said he plans to ask legislators for additional funding to make the city’s Global Transportation and Industrial Park a “world-class hub for south central Oklahoma.”

Lawmakers grilled Oklahoma Department of Commerce officials on their business retention, workforce and economic development efforts.

Alvord Jennifer Springer, the agency’s director of business development, said increasing department funds and resources to work with rural communities on economic development would go a long way toward improving business recruitment across the state.

Sen. Jerry Alvord, R-Wilson, said state leaders need to learn from the Michelin plant’s closure. He said Oklahoma needs to lessen its focus on attracting economic development megaprojects from out-of-state companies and refocus on helping existing local companies expand.

“What we experienced in southern Oklahoma over the last week has been tragic,” he said. “It is an economic earthquake for southern Oklahoma and the state. One thousand four hundred jobs dispersed over a period of time, that is something that it is hard to imagine the economic ripple effect that will have throughout southern Oklahoma and through the state.”

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, formed the select committee in March after the state found out it lost a bid to land a multibillion-dollar Volkswagen battery plant. The company chose Canada despite Oklahoma officials offering a nearly $700 million incentive package.

The committee aims to study and improve the state’s current economic landscape in order to attract and retain more employers.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care for Oklahoma Voice. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.
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