By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
The oil patch should keep Payne County’s economy humming in 2014.
Devon Energy plans to expand its Stillwater field office as exploration and drilling continues in the Mississippi Lime play.
“From what we understand, the exploration of the Mississippian play for Devon is a 30-year plan. It is producing strong economic results,” Stillwater Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Lisa Navrkal said.
Devon’s growth will create a need for secondary field workers who service Devon’s needs, which impacts Stillwater’s rental market, hotel rooms and restaurants, Navrkal said.
Stillwater’s Economic Director for Consumer Business Development Angela McLaughlin said the energy-sector boom has sparked more retail and hotel interest in Stillwater.
“It’s feeding our local economy and that goes to our city services, public schools and hospitals. So, that’s a good thing,” McLaughlin said.
One large economic development obstacle is a lack of buildings to house industrial, retail or restaurant development.
The Chamber’s Director of Economic Development Eric Miller said an available existing building plays a large role when a company evaluates a city.
“Why is an existing building the company preference versus constructing a new building, one might reasonably ask? The answer is an existing building, even one that requires some modifications to reflect the company’s needs, affords the company the most expedient route to commence operations, employ people, and most importantly, make money,” Miller said.
Stillwater’s lack of available industrial buildings puts the city at a disadvantage during industrial recruitment, he said.
Stillwater doesn’t have much retail or restaurant space available either, McLaughlin said, adding her office is working with developers to possibly build shopping centers in north and west Stillwater.
McLaughlin said several projects could spring to life in early 2014.
“Hopefully, we will be able to make announcements in early 2014,” she said. “It’s looking very good as long as the economy keeps growing.”
The announcements primarily involve the retail sector, she said, adding her office would like to fill several niches in Stillwater. It is working to attract a higher-end men’s clothing store, niche clothing stores and sporting goods stores.
“Our biggest holdup right now is we don’t have a lot of available space to put these guys,” she said. “We are trying to get another lifestyle center developed.”
Downtown Stillwater continues to be a hotbed of development. Loft-style apartments are attracting young professionals. Downtown retail is evolving to meet those needs.
The loft apartments have been successful, and it’s something the city wants to encourage.
“A small niche grocery store would be nice to have downtown,” McLaughlin said.
County cattlemen doing annual two-step
It’s the same old two-step for Payne County’s producers, who are watching Washington, D.C., for a farm bill and the weather forecast for drought-ending moisture.
Payne County’s agriculture revolves around cattle and the crops used to feed the herds, Payne County Extension Educator Nathan Anderson said.
Strong feeder cattle prices and improving pasture conditions have prodded producers to rebuild herds. Feeder cattle are steers or heifers mature enough to be placed in a feedlot where they will be fattened prior to slaughter.
The livestock markets are good and active, Anderson said.
Payne County producers reduced herd numbers during the droughts of 2011 and 2012.
“The cow herd is still building,” Anderson said. “With the strong markets that leaves a lot of good potential for the producers.”
Weather — specifically moisture — will be the key. Rain or snow in January, February and March will help produce forage, hay and keep ponds full.
More than 38 percent of the state remained classified in at least moderate drought as 2014 started, said State Climatologist Gary McManus. Drought conditions should continue throughout Oklahoma through March.
The other challenge is in Washington D.C.
Congress failed to pass a farm bill in 2012-2013. The bill never made it onto the House floor in 2012. The House and Senate passed wildly different farm bills in 2013. A conference committee is trying to cobble the bills together.
Conference Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., expressed confidence in December that a farm bill could be finished this month.
“I will file legislation to extend the current farm bill through January to allow us to finish our work without the threat that permanent law will be implemented,” Lucas said in early December.
Anderson said he couldn’t predict what is going to happen in Washington with a farm bill.
“You would expect there would be a farm bill established some time in the next year,” he said.