Eastern Oklahoma County Partnership to dissolve July 1
By Ryan Horton
After a decade of working to build a regional identity for the eastern region of Oklahoma County, the Eastern Oklahoma County Partnership is officially set to dissolve.
Effective July 1, the Eastern Oklahoma County Partnership will be no more.
The EOC Partnership started in 2010 as a regional alliance across five cities – Choctaw, Harrah, Jones, Luther and Nicoma Park. The organization then expanded to include a variety of other investors as a public-private partnership.
The nonprofit economic development organization worked to provide business recruitment, support existing businesses and helped with policy assistance services.
Over the last decade the partnership was tasked with attracting businesses and job opportunities to the area, working on policy to help member communities and identifying a series of projects to enhance the regional economy with special emphasis on increasing the overall quality of life.
A year ago, the partnership’s only executive director resigned after nine years at the helm.
During the past year members had provided staff to sit in as interim directors as the partnership worked to conduct an internal audit and develop a plan to move forward.
Board members say everything checked out, and founding members were prepared to continue what was started a decade ago. However, in recent months, all of the founding municipalities could not come to terms resulting in a shortfall of funding that would trigger a vote to dissolve.
“This was a successful experiment. It worked for 10 years, and we really got some positive things out of it,” said Mayor of Jones and EOCP Chairman, Ray Poland.
“In 2010, if you knew anything about eastern Oklahoma County, it’s that we didn’t really like each other after Friday night. When we sat down we realized that wasn’t true. Turns out we had the same problems, ideas and we wanted the same things for our communities. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t overcome what would have been a shortfall in funding after one of our founding cities pulled out.”
The partnership was structured so each member city, Choctaw, Harrah, Jones, Luther and Nicoma Park, had an annual contribution equal to $5 per citizen, based off of population counts of the 2010 Census.
Those population estimates put annual contributions of each community at approximately $60,000 for Choctaw, $30,000 for Harrah, $15,000 for Jones, $10,000 for Nicoma Park and $6,000 for Luther.
Those communities will see immediate monthly savings when the partnership dissolves, but city officials throughout the region know the importance of economic development in a state where sales tax revenue is the primary funding for municipalities.
Eastern Oklahoma County municipalities will now have to focus on other economic development opportunities with the beginning of the new fiscal year.
During the April 29 regular Choctaw Economic Development Authority meeting members questioned city manager Ed Brown as to if funding previously designated for the EOCP would be directed to CEDA.
“When I got here three years ago, I had my own questions about why I’m carrying two entities,” said Brown. “I would like to hire a liaison who works with CEDA. They’d do the day-to-day work, and CEDA would give them guidance. Council would have to provide the funding, but I have the feelers out for that possible position. Depending on what goes on with the partnership, I’ll be looking into getting a fulltime person to move us forward.”
The Town of Jones City will begin diverting the EOCP payments back into the general fund in July.
Poland says that could be much needed as he expects a significant shortage in sales tax revenue following the COVID-19 pandemic since Jones does not have as many retail and fast food businesses as surrounding communities.
Choctaw, for example, has had the Walmart Supercenter and several takeout food options remaining open through the entire pandemic, which could add some relief to that city’s reduced sales tax numbers in recent months.
Jones will look toward improving relationships with existing business and economic development organizations to fill the void left by the EOCP.
“The Choctaw Area Chamber of Commerce already does a lot to help our local businesses. We also have the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, and perhaps we really didn’t take advantage of the services offered by these organizations like we should have while we relied on the EOCP,” said Poland.
Nicoma Park is in the process of providing waterlines down NE 23rd Street, which will finally allow the city the opportunity to attract larger retailers and restaurants. City officials are hopeful their sales tax revenue could climb significantly in coming years.
Harrah has had a steady list of commercial developments announced in recent years, and officials are confident the proximity to the turnpike will cause that development within city limits to increase.
The Harrah Chamber of Commerce is also a long-standing organization dedicated to serving current businesses and attracting new business to the Harrah area.