Wind energy, a downtown hotel and reasons why some potential development has not come to Enid were among topics discussed in an Enid Young Professionals meeting Thursday.

“There’s a lot of activity with wind energy in our area, and specifically with blades,” Enid Regional Development Alliance Executive Director Brent Kisling said. “There is more demand for blades right now in the world than there is ability to manufacture them. So there are companies looking to locate manufacturing of wind blades in America, and now that we’re third in the nation in wind production, and there’s some huge projects planned for Northwest Oklahoma over the next couple of years, we’re hopeful that we can be a blade manufacturer someday.”

The downtown hotel is an upcoming development.

 Initially, a Hilton Garden Inn was pursued, Kisling said.

A developer in 2012 was not able to get financing, so ERDA started working with other developers, he said.

“We’ve had two others since then, that we had under contract with Hilton Garden Inn,” he said. “One of them had another financing issue, and then the second one was ready to start construction just about the time the price of oil went to $20, and they got really nervous.”

The project was delayed indefinitely, and ERDA started working with Dr. Atul Patel.

A Hilton Garden Inn official came to Enid and “got nervous about the site” because it was not on the west side of town, Kisling said.

“Hilton turned us down on the site, even though they had already approved it three times previous,” he said.

Patel proposed a Best Western GLō, he said. Construction should start sometime this summer or early fall.

Kisling answered a question about why Broadway Tower was not considered as a hotel.

“That was purchased by a group that we worked very closely with out of New York, and their intention was to purchase it and turn it into a boutique hotel,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure what has happened with that gentleman, we still interact with him every once in a while. We still have folks that are interested in coming in.

“It’s probably a better fit for apartments or some kind of housing. I think he was just having trouble maybe getting his financing together or something in order to finalize it.”

Another question addressed if there was any theme to businesses saying “no” about coming to Enid.

“There’s really two different answers to it, one is on the retail side and one is on the industrial side,” Kisling said. “On the retail side, we get no for a couple of reasons. One, we don’t have a lot of easy places to put big box retail anymore.”

There are new owners at Oakwood Mall, and there may be some reconfiguration there. In going west, there are not utilities, he said.

“That’s why you’ve seen the city get invested and active at Lahoma Courts … that is actually the busiest intersection in Northwest Oklahoma. That’s why Starbucks is there, that’s why Hobby Lobby’s there, that’s why something amazing needs to move in where Hastings was at,” Kisling said.

ERDA gets a lot of questions about restaurants — including Texas Roadhouse, Charleston’s and Panera Bread.

“I like to use the Charleston’s example, because it’s in the past now, but Charleston’s really was looking at us closely,” he said. “We checked off every one of their boxes except … you had to have a certain number of households that made over $100,000 a year within their trade area.

“We could not get there.”

Amanda Hortert, a spokeswoman for Texas Roadhouse, said Thursday the company has not signed any franchise agreements for the Enid market, and the company has no dates planned for an opening in Enid.

Target was interested in Enid about three years ago, Kisling said. The company had a major expansion into Canada that did not succeed as well as expected, and it basically shut down expansion in the U.S., he said.

“I think they’ll be back in the game one of these days soon,” Kisling said.

On the industrial side, one of the “glass ceilings in Enid” is it has a commodity-based economy.

“We’re not as big on value-added agriculture, energy and all that as I believe we should be. And the reason why we’re not is because adding value takes a lot of water,” he said. “Now, the Kaw Lake water project, and the water line that we’re going to run diversifying our water resources … that’s going to help us.”

A second issue to hold Enid back industrially is the work force.

“We always tend to have a lower than state average, lower than national average, unemployment rate,” Kisling said.

Economy remains strong 

“Our community has been the most successful, maybe one of the most successful, I think the most successful at growing the last several years,” he said. “There is a new normal in our community, and those of you who have been here for very long have been able to see it. The best indicator of that is the amount of wealth that is captured through retail sales in our community.”

In 2010, about $650 million worth of products subject to sales tax were sold in Enid, Kisling said. This past year, it was $825 million worth of products.

“The year before that, it was actually a little bit higher. We got pretty close to a billion dollars two years ago, right at the peak of the oil boom that was happening north of town. It’s receded a little bit, but it’s still a new normal that’s here in town. It is no longer a $650 million and declining economy, it’s one that’s growing,” he said.

In the 1980s, there was an oil boom, and when the price of oil went down, Enid “just about shut down,” Kisling said.

“We’ve been very fortunate that that has not happened this time,” he said.

The biggest reason for this is due to construction in town, Kisling said.

“The last three years, we’ve had over $2 billion worth of construction happening in Enid. To put that into perspective, the Devon Tower cost $750 million. So you’re almost talking about three Devon Towers being constructed in Enid over the last couple of years,” he said. “The biggest part of that is the Koch Fertilizer plant.”

Construction workers peaked at about 3,000 last fall, Kisling said.

“That was huge for our economy. They filled up our hotel rooms, they helped to fill up the seats in our restaurants and spending money in our stores. That was very significant for us,” he said.

There also were a couple of wind farms constructed over the past couple of years, each bringing about 200 construction workers to the area for a year, Kisling said.

A second reason the economy remained fairly strong is because Enid is more diversified, Kisling said.

“There was a time in our community where if the price of wheat went to $2, we couldn’t fill any potholes here,” he said. “You’ve seen some significant investments in some of our manufacturing sectors.”

Small businesses have invested, Kisling said.

The health care sector is the driving force in the economy, is the largest employment sector and has been there for the smaller communities in Northwest Oklahoma, he said.

Enid also has been aggressive, Kisling said.

“In our office, our primary focus is on bringing jobs to the community, and economic development and long term employment for folks, but we also get involved in the retail side of things,” he said. “Retail is another one of those industries now that you have got to go out and tell your story, especially if you’re Enid because we’re a town of 50,000 people — which doesn’t get a lot of retailers’ attention — but on a weekly basis we have over 131,000 people that shop in Enid from Northwest Oklahoma.

“That’s a difficult story to explain to somebody in a cubicle in New York City, or in Chicago, or even in Houston.”

EYP announces new affiliation

Previously affiliated with Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, EYP has announced it will now be affiliated with ERDA.

“We are looking forward to our new partnership with the Enid Regional Development Alliance and the opportunities that come with it,” EYP President Kegan Tuohy said. “The mission of ERDA aligns with the goals of our organization and we feel this is the best decision for us as we move forward.”

Story provided by:  Enid News & Eagle

Written by:  Jessica Miller