By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer
Industries looking to relocate or expand in Muskogee all have one big question, economic development officials say.
“How fast can a company be in production?” said Brien Thorstenberg, the director of business and economic development for the Port of Muskogee’s Business Development Office.
“The biggest thing in industrial selection is speed,” Thorstenberg said.
Muskogee must convince industries that it has properties that are site-ready — meaning amenities such as utilities and rail service are in place or can be in place quickly, he said.
Consequently, the Business Development Office has set its sights on “Site Ready Certification” through the Oklahoma Department of Commerce for three main industrial areas in Muskogee — the Port of Muskogee, John T. Griffin Industrial Park and Southside Industrial Park.
Each area has varying degrees of infrastructure in place. However, putting in infrastructure such as pipe for sewer service, water lines and more is a risky endeavor, officials said.
Much depends on what the particular industry needs — some need larger drainage pipes, others need multiple water sources etc.
So becoming “Site Ready Certified” isn’t about putting the needed infrastructure in place to attract industry.
“What they’re asking is if the infrastructure is not already in place, that there is a plan on how it will be put in,” Thorstenberg said. “What will be required? What will the cost of it be? Where will the funding for the project come from?”
There are mountains of information needed to apply for Site Ready Certification, but Thorstenberg is prepared to make the applications.
“I’ve done this with three industrial areas in Ardmore,” he said. “With a crew of three people, it took us about 35 days to complete the application and another 90-120 days to become certified.”
The Oklahoma Department of Commerce has a website that prospective industries can search for Site Ready properties available in the state.
Muskogee doesn’t have any that show up highlighted as “certified” in the search. So, if companies are only looking for Site Ready properties, Muskogee’s available acreage could easily be overlooked, said Marie Seabolt, deputy director of business development for the Muskogee City-County Port Authority Business Development Office.
For example, at okcommerce.gov/location-or-expansion, a search done for sites at least 25 acres and no larger than 100 acres, for sale or lease, industrial, brings up property at U.S. 69 and Harris Road in Muskogee at the top of the list.
However, it lacks the bright blue “Certified” stamp that is seen on property on the list in Chickasha, in Bartlesville, near Ardmore and in Stroud.
The areas Thorstenberg and Seabolt will first focus on are the Port of Muskogee, John T. Griffin Industrial Park and Southside Industrial Park.
A lot of work remains to get those applications going. Each certification costs $1,000, and a third-party consultant is the one who decides when a site is certified “Site Ready,” rather than the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Among the information that must be submitted:
• A completed Phase I Environmental Survey of the property;
• A verification letter from the Oklahoma Archeological Survey stating there are no archaeological/historical studies under way at the site;
• Written confirmation from utility companies that service can be provided within 180 days.;
• The number of access points into the site, number of roads with access and railway access;
• Education level of the work force within 75 miles, unemployment rates, size of work force, age distribution, absenteeism and turnover rates at the 10 largest employers in the area;
• All technical schools, colleges and universities within 75 miles, including the type of degrees or certifications offered;
• Average ACT scores for last five years of area students, literacy rates and average pupil-to-teacher ratio;
• And a multitude of data on living in the area, including the average cost of living, what kind of shopping is available, what kind of housing is available, frequency of road closures, prevailing wind direction, humidity factors, temperature ranges, frequency of floods, tornadoes and hail storms and much more.
For potential industries, a Site Ready certified site is one in which it can count on all the research it needs already being done.
Utilities should be able to be installed within 180 days, something very important to potential businesses, Thorstenberg said.
“The rationale for a community to have acreage and infrastructure available is helping the company with speed to opening,” Thorstenberg said. “It all comes down to the bottom line for the company. For example, at the port, you have the infrastructure, you have the rails, so there’s added incentive to save the company money.”
The Port of Muskogee features rail service, water, sewer and electrical utilities in addition to waterways which are all easily accessible to land available for development.
The Port of Muskogee has about 100 acres of land ready to be developed, said Port Director Scott Robinson.
There are 17 major industries using the port, including asphalt, scrap steel, cargo handling, powder coating and fabrication, and pipe companies.
John T. Griffin Industrial Park is zoned light industrial and heavy industrial and also boasts the transportation assets key to the port.
It also has utilities nearby and rail service nearby. Dal-Tile is the major industry located there.
The Southside Industrial Park hasn’t been developed. There utilities are nearby but not in place.
Between the three, there are more than 700 acres available for industrial development, according to the Muskogee Development Authority website, www.muskogeedevelopment.org.
Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.