3 Ways Infrastructure Drives Economic Development

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Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Mayor Craig Thurmond shares exactly how the practice of placing a high level of importance on maintaining and expanding infrastructure has resulted in successful economic outcomes for his city.

(Image courtesy rosedistrict.com)
“Downtown redevelopment, in what we now call the Rose District, took shape in the form of widened sidewalks with brick lined pavers, decorative street lamps, and mid-block crossings to accommodate pedestrian traffic. Forward-thinking streetscape design makes it conducive for visitors to enjoy new public gathering spaces, such as Centennial Park and the Rose District plaza.” (Image courtesy rosedistrict.com)

This is a guest post by Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Mayor Craig Thurmond.

Investments in modern infrastructure lay the foundations for economic development and growth in all communities. Building streets, bridges, utilities (i.e. water, sewer, electrical, gas, etc.) and making other improvements create jobs. When completed, these projects help a community increase its wealth and its citizens’ standard of living.

The city of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, recognized this long ago and has always placed a high level of importance on maintaining and expanding its infrastructure. Doing so has resulted in the following three outcomes.

1. Infrastructure creates (and keeps) jobs.

Our experience with Flight Safety International underscores the case for infrastructure to be improved and modernized as new needs and technologies emerge.

By 2010, Flight Safety had grown to almost 600 employees and was operating out of two different facilities. The international advanced manufacturing firm develops and produces flight simulators for commercial and military application and training. In order to streamline its operations and position itself for growth, the company needed a larger combined facility to build its flight simulators. Losing the company to another city was a very real threat, one that would have dealt a devastating blow to the local economy.

To keep Flight Safety in Broken Arrow, the city provided a $6.4 million job retention and creation package. With those funds, the company was able to build a new, state-of-the-art 375,000 square-foot facility in which to build its flight simulators from conception to completion. Not only did Flight Safety stay in town, the city also achieved additional public infrastructure through new water lines and roadway and signal improvements. Today, Flight Safety is the largest private employer in Broken Arrow, providing jobs to nearly 800 people, while creating 760 indirect jobs locally.

2. Infrastructure attracts and retains a skilled workforce.

Highly educated, skilled workers today expect more from their jobs than just a paycheck and a secure future. That’s why cities compete fiercely to make their communities an attractive place to live. Quality of life plays a big role in one’s decision to seek a job in a particular city, relocate an existing business or start a new one. Quality of life factors include walkability, alternate transportation methods, bicycle paths, urban centers, a vibrant cultural scene, nightlife, access to higher education, and more.

We knew that to attract, retain and nurture a talented workforce, we had to revitalize the core of Broken Arrow. Since 2010, the city has sunk nearly $10 million into infrastructure improvements on Main Street and the surrounding area. The private sector has responded with nearly $30 million of investment, creating hundreds of jobs and opportunities to shop local.

Downtown redevelopment, in what we now call the Rose District, took shape in the form of widened sidewalks with brick lined pavers, decorative street lamps, and mid-block crossings to accommodate pedestrian traffic. Forward-thinking streetscape design makes it conducive for visitors to enjoy new public gathering spaces, such as Centennial Park and the Rose District plaza, where farmers markets are held weekly during the growing season. The city also invested in cultural institutions that work to preserve Broken Arrow’s rich history and honor those who have served in our country’s armed forces. Still to come is a creative arts center that will provide hands-on learning experiences for visitors of all ages and complement the existing Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center just a few blocks away.

"There is more construction activity in downtown Broken Arrow during the last five years than in the previous 50 years – all because city leaders envisioned a vibrant downtown, which the community has embraced."
“There is more construction activity in downtown Broken Arrow during the last five years than in the previous 50 years – all because city leaders envisioned a vibrant downtown, which the community has embraced.”

3. Infrastructure fosters sustainability.

Broken Arrow now has the ability to sustain growth, thanks to the infrastructure investments into Flight Safety and the Rose District. During the construction of both projects, the city upsized water lines to increase capacity. This ensures sufficient water delivery to new businesses and the necessary fire suppression to comply with building code regulations. This is particularly of value in the Rose District, where the lack of water capacity in the past has been cost prohibitive to new development. That issue is no longer an obstacle for investors looking to rehabilitate an existing space or construct a new one.

In 2014, the International Economic Development Council awarded the Rose District a Gold Award for Excellence in Economic Development for Public/Private Partnership. Additionally, the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Planning Association awarded its 2015 Great Street Award to the Rose District because of its unique identity, cultural interest, community involvement, and a sustainable vision for tomorrow. Not only does the Rose District promote sustainability through minimizing runoff, reusing water, ensuring groundwater quality, minimizing heat islands, and responding to climatic demands, it’s also capable of being maintained without excessive costs. Another component of sustainability involves transportation. The city has a plan in place to build a network of pedestrian and cycling trails throughout the community and connect it all to the Rose District, the heart of Broken Arrow.

Finally, the infrastructure we build today is the legacy we leave to future generations. It will need to provide for current water, energy and transportation demands, while at the same time, remain flexible enough to adapt to future technological, environmental and regulatory changes. We believe by making the necessary investments in our infrastructure now, we meet the current needs of our community, while increasing opportunities for future growth and prosperity. It’s a strategy that is sure to yield dividends for years to come.

About the Author: Mayor Craig Thurmond was elected to the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, City Council in 2001. He has served as Mayor since 2012, focusing on Economic Development and Public Safety. Mayor Thurmond serves on 18 local and national boards, councils and committees. He has worked in the land development and construction industries for 35 years in Oklahoma and California. To learn more about the city of Broken Arrow, visit BrokenArrowOK.gov.