New NEDC director talks strengthening Norman economy at Downtowners meeting

·3 min read

Jun. 11—A new leader with the Norman Economic Development Coalition is bringing more than two decades of experience to develop a plan to energize Norman, grow the local economy and improve the quality of life for residents.

Lawrence McKinney led discussions among other Norman business and development leaders at the Downtowners meeting Thursday. McKinney, the new president and CEO of NEDC, spent 26 years running regional economic development groups in Georgia and Florida.

"The NEDC recently aligned with the Norman Chamber of Commerce and VisitNorman to create Team Norman, a collective that plans to move into a shared facility by Q4 of 2021. The group's intention is to be a "catalytic facilitator for jobs and wealth creation, talent retention/attraction and entrepreneurial innovation for Norman, throughout Cleveland County and the metro," according to a discussion draft."

McKinney's plan projects the creation of 3,000 net new jobs by 2026 — a 20% increase over the previous five years — a rise in population by 9,000 citizens and $200 million in new capital investment.

McKinney said that in August, Team Norman will release a report on his five year plan, gage the importance of certain areas of interest or concern and re-draft.

"I'm sure there will be about 30% of that current plan that we will need to change — we will add some things and take some things out," McKinney said.

McKinney highlighted traits of a strong economy, mentioning that Norman has areas where growth is vital to ensuring economic development.

"So I am a resident now, and I will tell you that one negative I have noticed is there is a lot of trash on the highway," McKinney said.

McKinney was a part of a campaign in an Atlanta suburb that raised $1.5 million for entrances to the city and cleaning up trash.

"Norman is a beautiful city, but there is a lot of paper and things along our major roadways," McKinney said.

McKinney cited 10 traits he said are proof of a strong economy:

* Local governments do not struggle to provide essential services.

* Schools are strong and prepare students for work.

* Streets are safe and clean.

* Recreational programs are abundant.

* Social welfare programs are minimal.

* Citizens enjoy consistent employment and regular wage gains.

* Businesses are able to plan for consistent expansion.

* Businesses are able to hire full-time employees.

* Businesses are willing to risk significant capital.

* Communities grow closer as young professionals remain in the area as growing employment opportunities in their "hometown" capture their interest.

One of the strategies detailed in the current draft to drive economic prosperity is geared toward talent retention and attraction.

In Chicago over the past five years, 60 companies have relocated their headquarters to the city due to the abundance of talent, the plan notes. If Norman doesn't work to develop a flow of skilled workers, it will be difficult to remain competitive, according to the plan.

"Over the last 10 years, young professionals are moving to Oklahoma City because there is that critical mass of young folks there," McKinney said. "What I am hearing we have here is graduates looking for a community where they can be a little bit more mature."

McKinney said creating a vibrant downtown will be key to retaining young professionals.

McKinney said his job exists to grow the economy, and said there are multiple ways to achieve that goal.

"How we get there will be the biggest challenge," McKinney said.

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.