By Steve Metzer
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Recent actions taken at the state Capitol reflect continuing efforts to diversify Oklahoma’s economy, especially into aerospace, automotive and technology sectors.
Oklahoma’s newly minted budget includes $1 million for the Department of Commerce’s Aerospace Commerce Economic Services program, to be used for job growth and economic development specifically in the aerospace and automotive industries. Another $1 million is earmarked to assist “new entrepreneurs and small business innovators” through the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology; and $19 million is to be added to the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which can be tapped to close deals to bring business and industry investment to the Sooner State.
Gov. Kevin Stitt also signed a bill into law last week that will extend the scope of tax credits designed to attract automotive industry investment.
The state previously has offered three types of tax credits to qualified employers and employees involved in vehicle manufacturing. One is for employers that help to cover costs of their employees’ education. They can get a 50% credit on costs of tuition reimbursement. Additionally, credits of 10% or 5% are offered to employers for up to five years to offset costs of compensation paid to certain employees, depending on whether the employees graduated from in-state or out-of-state colleges. The state also has previously offered income tax credits of up to $5,000 annually for five years to qualified automotive industry employees.
House Bill 1884, authored by state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmlugee, extends the three types of credits to qualified employers and employees involved in the automotive parts industry and also to those engaged in the manufacture of buses or truck-tractors.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat said the actions – along with record funding for education – should help Oklahoma build momentum in attracting investment from out-of-state companies.
“Aerospace is quickly becoming an extremely important part of Oklahoma’s economy,” Treat said. “We’ve really grown exponentially I would say in that sector and we need to capture the momentum we have.”
Continued investment in the ACES program, in OCAST and in the Quick Action Closing Fund is important to keep the state competitive against others in attracting industry, he said.
“I’m not aware of specific examples (of automotive or other companies currently targeted); I think it’s more just getting ourselves in position to land those companies and land job growth for the existing companies we have,” Treat said, noting current high demand for engineers in the automotive sector. “I think that what we’ve done makes us more competitive – and another huge component of being attractive to companies in other states is having an education system that we can be proud of. We’ve made great progress there as well.”
Treat said $200 million set aside as savings in next year’s budget also can be interpreted as an investment in economic development.
“When people move to energy states, there’s often concern about the cyclical nature of the economy,” he said, “so setting aside the money in addition to the Rainy Day Fund, that puts us in a position to better protect our core services and to go to companies in other states and say, ‘Hey, Oklahoma has its act together. You need to locate here.”