When I mention that I’m in the Office of Corporate Partnerships and Regional Economic Development (OCP), most people recognize and can appreciate the importance of collaborating with business and industry. Relationships with the business community are a high priority for OU, and are even mentioned in the Lead On strategic plan (Pillar 5, Strategy 1, Tactic 6 – Create an Office of Corporate Partnerships to lead the effort to grow strategic research partnerships with private sector and philanthropies). But many people don’t realize that OCP is also responsible for economic development. Typically, economic developers focus on the three legs of the EcDev stool: business recruitment, business retention and expansion (BRE) and entrepreneurship. I’ll eventually write about all three legs (click here to subscribe for future blogs!) but I’ll address business recruitment today.
OCP works with local, regional, and state Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) to help recruit new companies to the state and to help existing Oklahoma companies grow and thrive. Some of these EDO partners are the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, Oklahoma Aerospace Commerce Economic Services (ACES), the Greater Oklahoma City Regional Partnership, the Norman Economic Development Coalition, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, and the Tulsa Chamber. We have also worked with small, rural communities as well.
As you might imagine, it’s a significant decision for a business to locate in another state. If they are moving operations from another location, they must consider their employees’ relocation expenses and the possibility that some employees will not want to move. If the company is establishing an additional location, there are substantial costs associated with establishing a new facility. In both situations, companies want to know that they will be able to get up and running quickly and will have success in the community.
There are typically dozens, or even hundreds, of communities competing for consideration in the location process. Companies may work with a site selector, who gathers info and narrows down the list of potential locations to a few. Then the real competition begins! The community or state EDO submits information about incentives, taxes, utilities, access to transportation, quality of life and a wide array of other important factors. But for most companies, the most important consideration (or at least in the top three) is access to talent. Companies want to know that they can hire the right people. Even the most beautiful location with the lowest cost of doing business will not be successful if they can’t find the necessary workforce. This is where the partnership with the University becomes important to the overall package. We can provide information about graduation rates, curriculum, growth in specific degrees as well as describe areas of research expertise. When prospective companies visit the state, OCP often hosts them on campus, and we discuss opportunities to collaborate or recruit. As an example, how impressive is it for a radar company to visit the Radar Innovation Lab before they make a decision on where to locate? That’s just one of many examples of how companies can benefit from proximity to OU. Hopefully, this long process ends with an announcement that the company is locating in Oklahoma and will create new jobs! But my hope is that even if the companies do not decide to move here, they will still want to collaborate with OU in some way.