By Rhett Morgan Tulsa World | Jul 28, 2019
With its own water and wastewater treatment plants and custom electricity generation from the Grand River Dam Authority, MidAmerica Industrial Park has competitive advantages out the wazoo.
But occasionally, site selectors view those perks as too good to be true.
“Sometimes, we don’t make the first cut because they don’t get it,” said David Stewart, chief administrative officer of MAIP. “They’re skeptical. It looks too easy.”
When searching for new venues, company power brokers also can rely too much on empirical data, part of which shows that MAIP lies outside Tulsa’s MSA (metropolitan statistical area).
“We really fight the traditional method and ways of data collection and interpretation of data,” Stewart said. “It’s a fact. We can’t change it. What we have to do is work around it.”
That work has begun in earnest.
Located between Chouteau and Pryor, MAIP is in the midst of a master plan that addresses infrastructure, housing, quality of life and workforce at the 9,000-acre business park, which delivers at least a $1.4 billion annual economic impact to the region.
A grand opening for a USA BMX track at MAIP is scheduled for this summer. Set to be completed there in 2020 is a retail and residential development called The District. It will include 30,000 square feet of retail space, a 300-unit, multifamily community, 160 single-family homes and 10 acres of parks and outdoor spaces linked by walking and biking trails.
“You have to have the lifestyle here in order to attract the kind of employers that you want and, if those employers are going to be here, the type of employees that you need,” said Sheila Curley, a spokeswoman for MAIP.
Referencing the BMX track, which will build its ridership base through STEM programs, Stewart said, “this place has been here for 60 years. People know it’s here, but nobody knows much about it. Kids don’t know there’s a future here. That’s the whole thing.
“I’m a year away from having this as a showpiece where companies come in say, ‘Wow, what is that?’ When you can touch it and feel it, you believe it.”
Designed by Tulsa-based Cyntergy, the 162-acre District is a step in that direction, said Bill Murphy, vice president of economic development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
“When I first came to Tulsa, I was blown away by the sheer size of the industrial park,” he said. “It’s like a city onto itself. There’s really no other place, short of the city of Tulsa, that’s got that kind of economic engine.
“The District is going to be a real game-changer for them. They will be drawing people from counties in southwest Missouri, southern Kansas, certainly from Tulsa. This is going to give them a better opportunity to kind of grow their own.”
MAIP began as a U.S. government site that made black powder during World War II. That plant shut down in 1945 and 15 years later, a public trust called the Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority (OOWA) was formed to encourage economic growth and create jobs.
Operator of MAIP, Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority derives its revenues from the operation of a water plant, waste treatment plant, the sale or lease of Authority properties, interest earned on investment holdings and at certain times, loans made to industrial park tenants.
Today, MAIP is home to 4,500 employees and at least 80 companies, 30% of which represent the metal, machining and manufacturing sectors. The park has experienced 20% growth over the past five years, Stewart said. Five Fortune 500 companies reside on the grounds, including Google, whose presence has transformed the park, the local school system and the area.
Last month, the California-based internet services firm announced a $600 million expansion of its data center at MAIP pushing to $3 billion its total investment in Mayes County. Google’s complex in Oklahoma employs at least 500 and is the company’s second largest in the world, trailing only the one in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
“That’s one of the reasons that Google is here; they have (GRDA) power and we have the easements,” Stewart says. “Basically, when they need something, they just call me and I call (GRDA President/CEO) Dan (Sullivan). You can’t get that in California. Where else can you get power and reliability like that. ...
“The CEO of Google (Sundar Pichai), he doesn’t show up at too many places. He came out here (in June). So we are on his radar.”
A goal is getting other big shots to notice. To that end, the Tulsa Regional Chamber often partners with MAIP on visits with site consultants, Murphy said.
“There are very few communities that can hang their hat on an investment of Google’s magnitude,” he says. “That’s where they are really going to be able to tell a story. Part of it is being able to tell it. The second part is, how do you reach the audience you really need to be after. That’s why we continue to work with them on our regional economic development program.
“Oftentimes, it is a labor conversation. It’s about available workforce. MidAmerica is just far enough outside what site selectors really look at — and that is that 30-minute drive time — for economic development projects. They (MAIP reps), more often than not, get eliminated before they get a chance to sell the uniqueness of that development … But they’ve done some things, to their credit, to help offset those limitations.”
‘We get it done.’
One of those is MidAmerica Delivers.
Several years ago, MAIP announced it was investing $3.5 million into the program, which to date has integrated STEM labs into about a dozen area schools, Stewart said. That is on top of workforce development and training opportunities available on-site at Rogers State University and Northeast Technology Center.
Referencing the state of Oklahoma’s poor marks in education, Curley said, “David can’t control Oklahoma’s education system. But he can help control the education system that impacts his employers.
“You can take that one area that you can control and develop the assets that you need to help bring them here.”
Laying out his master plan to a reporter last week, Stewart spoke like a man on a mission — but not one who is in a hurry. That is because he is not.
Tabbed by former Gov. Mary Fallin, he has a lifetime appointment as head of OOWA.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “So when we do a management plan and a strategic plan, we shake hands. that’s how we do business. We get it done. I think all the employers will tell you that. Companies will think here’s a site and it either works or it doesn’t work. We tell them don’t think that way. Don’t go into a restaurant and think just because a hamburger is on the table, that’s what you get. Tell me what you want and we’ll cook it for you. That’s the way we operate when we get people in a room.
“We can get them to the red zone, but we have to get them that last 20 yards. The last 20 yards is what we’re spending time doing.”
Full story here.