Incentives for Oklahoma companies wanting to increase operations continue to grow

Published: Saturday, October 10, 2009 7:00 am By: Debbie Blossom

The Oklahoman

When Clint Parr signed up his Tulsa mobile business solutions firm for the state's Quality Jobs program last fall, MacroSolve Inc. had just gone public, and a growth spurt had him hunting for employees.

While the company hasn't grown jobs in the past year, the five-year growth plan Parr submitted for the incentive-based program that gives cash payments for increasing payrolls leaves time for that workforce expansion. The forecast future business also impressed investors.

"The good thing about the program, when you have your plans in place, it gives investors some comfort with your growth," said Parr, president and chief executive officer.

Combined with the low cost of living and doing business in Oklahoma, "when you staple that incentive on to it, that's a heck of a deal," he said.

The bundle of business incentives available from the state's Commerce Department for companies that want to increase operations, add jobs or expand infrastructure is growing, even amid a recession that has cut into many companies' bottom line.

Recently added programs, and some that will start soon, are going beyond helping companies secure traditional income tax credits and cash rebates for adding jobs. And they are reaching out beyond the state's core manufacturing sector.

But while the help is there, the challenge is getting the word out, commerce officials say.

"A big problem we have is so many times we hear companies don't know about the programs," said Martin Roberts, an economic development specialist with the department. Every year, he reviews existing incentives and details the latest methods to bolster operations at events such as manufacturing conferences.

"There are four new incentives this year," Roberts said, the result of new legislation and state officials' efforts to keep Oklahoma up-to-date with competing states.

The Commerce Department's most publicized and widely used Quality Jobs program - which provides up to 5 percent in cash rebates from the Oklahoma Tax Commission on newly created payroll - remains, but an upgraded version adding an investment tax credit targets manufacturers paying higher-than-average wages and looking to make a capital investment greater than $40 million.

That incentive starts Jan. 1.

Commerce wants to assist new high-growth, knowledge-based industries that have some positions with average wages reaching $86,600. Companies offering professional, scientific and technical services qualify, as do those in finance and insurance, information, music and film.

Specialty hospitals, management companies and utilities that are expanding into wind energy production also are eligible.

Companies can apply for the 21st Century Quality Jobs program Nov. 1.

"We want to target those industries that are high-salaried," Roberts said, and that have jobs that make a big impact on the economy. "We want to give them some incentive."

Two programs that started in July also are reaching into new markets, he said.

The prime contractor incentive targets federal contractors that subcontract work to Oklahoma companies, with benefits tied to how much work the prime contractor does in the state. It's complicated, Roberts said, but it has grabbed attention.

"We expect a lot of companies to take advantage of it," he said.

And communities and counties can fund economic development - which includes creating businesses - through a pooled finance bond incentive that finances projects through the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority.



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