By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The industrial, retail and restaurant climate looks bright for Stillwater and Payne County in 2013, but the climate — the continuing drought — makes the agricultural outlook gloomy.
“It’s bad and getting worse,” Payne County Agricultural Extension Agent Nathan Anderson said.
Payne County cattlemen watched their pastures wither this summer, Anderson said. Hay prices are up because of a shortage.
“They have become good managers. They have had to manage their herds and expenses because of the drought conditions,” he said.
The cattlemen reduced the size of their herds when the drought hit Oklahoma hard in summer 2011.
Cattle is Payne County’s main agribusiness, but growers are experiencing the same problem. Winter wheat has been planted, but it didn’t get enough moisture to grow, he said.
The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook doesn’t look promising, either.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Production Center produced a drought forecast for Dec. 20 through March 31. The drought is predicted to persist across Oklahoma and much of the central United States.
Traditionally, December, January and February are the three driest months for Oklahoma.
“It looks like a dry period in the extended forecast,” Anderson said.
Without rain, Payne County’s producers will have to manage their herds and crops as best as they can, he said.
If the agricultural outlook is glum, the industrial and retail forecast appears rosy.
It will be difficult for Stillwater to surpass 2012’s industrial recruitment record.
An international aerospace company, ASCO Industries, bought the MerCruiser facility on North Perkins Road to launch its first North American manufacturing operation.
ASCO Industries designs and manufactures high strength aircraft components and assemblies for major jetliner manufacturers. ASCO Aerospace USA is expected to employ 600 people by 2018.
Stillwater also landed Total Energy, a maker of storage tanks, towers and custom pressure vessels. It bought the Quad/Graphics building on Airport Road and will eventually employ approximately 200.
More than 350 aerospace-related companies are located in Oklahoma. They employ more than 143,000 people. The Oklahoma aerospace industry generates more than $5 billion in payroll annually.
“Stillwater is fortunate to have a foothold in this industry, and we will continue to build on this. We must also be well-rounded in the industries who call our region home,” Stillwater Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Lisa Navrkal said.
The chamber is examining the community’s attributes, she said, and will target specific companies to locate here. Those companies will fall within five sectors — technology, aerospace, energy, biosciences and manufacturing.
“Having access to an educated workforce, a top-class training program in a community with a university is what makes Stillwater unique,” she said. “Stillwater is blessed to have first-class education and workforce training facilities, they are definitely an asset to our community.”
Navrkal said the chamber’s goals for 2013 are to recruit companies that will create jobs with average or above average salaries. Those companies also will be able to take advantage of workforce training or research and development efforts in the community.
Retail and restaurants
Retailers and restaurants continue to express interest in Stillwater, the city’s Economic Director for Consumer Business Development Angela McLaughlin said.
Interest usually wanes during the holidays, but it has remained strong this season, McLaughlin said.
Companies and entrepreneurs continue to build and open restaurants in Stillwater. Schlotzsky’s and Panda Express recently opened in separate locations on North Perkins Road. A Jimmy’s Egg is under construction on West Sixth Street near downtown Stillwater.
“For us to have as much interest as we do, it bodes very, very well for 2013,” McLaughlin said.
Companies are interested in Stillwater because of industrial growth, Oklahoma State University’s growth and the success of national retail chains in Stillwater, she said.
“Because of their success, we are getting looks from other retail/restaurant people,” she said.
Stillwater will continue to grow along North Perkins Road, she said. She predicted additional development on West Sixth Street in west Stillwater.
“The west side is definitely primed for development,” McLaughlin said, adding several people are interested in west Stillwater locations.
Downtown Stillwater seems to be a prime location as well. Two restaurants and a bar have opened there recently.
“Stillwater as a whole has a lot of attention. That’s a good thing for us,” she said.