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Oklahoma's Panhandle Growth Dilemma
Thursday, October 10, 2013 6:55 AM

The future growth of western Oklahoma could depend on the area’s ability to attract housing developers, a problem that Panhandle Regional Economic Development Coalition has been working on for 20 years.

As an example, Guymon residents are making too much money to qualify for affordable low-income housing. However, they aren’t making enough to afford the mortgage on a $300,000 home.

The problem in Guymon will only continue to worsen as the area prepares to embrace the wind energy industry, which will bring more than 800 new technician jobs.

The coalition is forecasting that this increase alone will up the need for housing to 575 single-family homes and more than 300 rental units.

Because these homes aren’t expected to be built by the time the wind energy industry starts booming, these new employees are likely to live out of state, just like more than 700 employees from Seaboard Foods Inc.

That means those employees are paying property taxes and likely giving sales taxes to communities outside of Oklahoma.

For state Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, and state Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, the fact that tax dollars leave the state is a problem that must be solved, especially when it’s because of a lack of housing.

Jackson and Blackwell held an interim study Tuesday on rural housing several presenters remarked on the issue of a lack of housing and the struggles of attracting developers to rural areas. A lack of housing cost Guymon another food processor.

When companies do come to the area or other communities without housing, they often put employees in hotels for weeks and months at a time. That’s what Seaboard does when it hires new employees who can’t find a place to live. The lack of housing produces a temporary workforce that is counter-productive to employers.

What Seaboard is trying to create in Guymon is a permanent workforce, where people can better themselves in their positions and earn their way up the pay scale, thus contributing more to the community.

Bringing home developers to communities will require more than telling them about the city’s lack of housing. It will take infrastructure, something that many rural communities do not have and cannot afford to build, said Kay Decker, chairwoman of the sociology department at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and executive director of Freedom West Community Development Corp.

She said the state needs to help communities acquire rural land that can be used for housing development, as well as add needed infrastructure such as streets and curbing.

But there is a vicious cycle to the construction. No one wants to develop infrastructure if the workforce is temporary.

 

(Source: Journal Record, 9 October 2013)