Oklahoma leaders met last week to discuss how to attract development near the state's lakes, especially through public-private partnerships. Journal Record reporter Steve Metzer discusses Oklahoma's tourism industry, how the legislature is incentivizing corporate investments, and the state's reliance on sales tax revenue.
Drew Hutchinson: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson, and joining me for this week’s report is Journal Record reporter Steve Metzer.
Steve Metzer: Great, thanks for having me on.
Hutchinson: Of course! An article you wrote recently explained a summit last week at Skiatook Lake. Hundreds of business leaders and lawmakers met to discuss strategies and challenges to developing Oklahoma’s tourism industry, particularly around the state’s lakes. First off, who were some of these leaders in attendance?
Metzer: Gov. Stitt was there. I spoke to Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell the day before about what he was expecting. Some lawmakers who chair committees on tourism and commerce also were there. And of course there were some business people there too who hopefully for Oklahoma were interested in making some investments.
Hutchinson: So, for some background, how significant is the tourism industry to Oklahoma?
Metzer: It’s very significant. A lot of people may not realize it, but tourism’s big business in Oklahoma. It’s actually the third largest industry behind energy and aerospace. Tourism employs about 100,000 Oklahomans who get paid in the range of $2 billion a year. So, it’s definitely worth the effort of investing in what we have and trying to bring in new attractions for people to enjoy.
Hutchinson: You mentioned in your story that public-private partnerships can be really important in creating the developments that attract tourists. And it sounds like that was a large part of the discussion at this summit.
Metzer: Right, the state has passed some laws that might make it easier or more attractive for private companies to partner up with government agencies, like the Tulsa Corps of Engineers, to make projects happen. One of the goals they had at Skiatook Lake was to make sure investors knew about those incentives.
Hutchinson: Would you mind giving us a little background on some of those laws that you mentioned?
Metzer: Sure. Well back in 2017, the legislature passed the Oklahoma Public and Private Facilities and Infrastructure Act. That created a kind of framework for contracts between government and private entities wanting to finance or otherwise develop certain projects. This year, they modified language in the Oklahoma Tourism Development Act. That allowed for entertainment districts under development to qualify for tax credits and/or other incentives. The idea, again, is just to make investment in Oklahoma tourism and in its lakes as attractive as possible. Lt. Gov. Pinnell told me he thinks there’s a lot of room for investment in lakes all over the state.
Hutchinson: And of course, Oklahoma is very dependent on sales tax revenue, and the lieutenant governor talked to you about this a little and how it relates to tourism.
Metzer: Yeah, he did. He said towns in Oklahoma may be more dependent on sales tax that towns just about anywhere else in the country. So, when there’s a beautiful lake nearby, that’s naturally something that people in those towns need to explore as a way to generate revenue for services like fire and police protection. Putting a project together, whether it represents a public-private partnership or not, makes a lot of sense if it results in a marina or an event venue or some other attraction to draw in tourists or just people in general.
Hutchinson: And speaking of beautiful lakes, in your story, the lieutenant governor said Skiatook Lake was a “natural” place to host a summit like this. Oklahoma has 200 man-made lakes, but can you give us some insight into why Skiatook in particular was the choice of venue?
Metzer: Well the place they met, the Skiatook Springs Event Venue, is about a 7,200-square-foot facility developed to complement a public-private partnership investment at the CrossTimbers Marina at the lake. It’s a really beautiful place and has been very successful. It’s an example of a public-private partnership that has worked out very well.
I think the Lt. Gov. Pinnell and the others who met there are on the right track in trying to provide a position Oklahoma and our communities to bring in more tourism dollars.
Hutchinson: Steve Metzer is a reporter at The Journal Record. Thank you so much for your time today, Steve.
Metzer: Sure! You’re very welcome, any time.
Hutchinson: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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