September 25, 2013

Officials say housing is key to future

The Express-Star


The economy of Chickasha is thriving as it has never thrived before.

Recent discoveries of oil and gas reserves combined with university appeal, historical attraction and convenient state location have all contributed to the overwhelming growth and development the city has experienced in recent months. 

However, as with any maturing entity, further development is only accomplished by continuous maintenance, improvement and anticipation by its leaders, something that Chickasha City Manager Stewart Fairburn knows all too well.

“We have many plans of redevelopment,” Fairburn said, “because as a city, if you don’t redevelop, you die.”

Redevelopment is no simple task. There are a number of elements involved, especially for a city as old as Chickasha.

“There’s three legs to the stool—one leg is residential, one leg is retail and one leg is primary jobs,” Fairburn said. “One leg cannot become strong if the others aren’t because they all have to support each other.”

Economic Development Council President Christy Elkins has spearheaded the effort to bring Chickasha’s housing industry, or the residential leg, to the forefront of city development for 10 months.

“We have everything here — education, a great community and location — we’ve just been off of the radar for so long,” Elkins said. “I think once we get more housing and we can start to grow, we’re going to grow.”

Elkins recently received test results on a housing study she requested, which outlined the details of how and why the city is in need of more places to live. This was a key factor, she said, in making deals with interested developers.

According to data from the most recent census, Chickasha falls significantly below the homeownership rate percentage of Oklahoma, and above average for work commute time. This suggests what the housing study concluded: The few houses available in Chickasha are quite old and having used up their value, leaves those employed in Chickasha to commute to their jobs from other cities.

Commuting is not only expensive and inconvenient; it indirectly affects the economy of Chickasha.

“If we bring in a business that has 200 jobs, where are the 200 families going to live?” Fairburn asked. “It leaves the new business to steal employees from other businesses in town, or it leaves them recruiting people that have to commute from somewhere else — they are then taking the wages they receive and spending them outside of town.”

Most cities in Oklahoma survive from moneys collected via sales tax, but sales must be made in order to collect this revenue. People are more likely to spend money, Fairburn explained, in the city in which they live.

The most recent housing facility to Chickasha, the Chickasha Hotel Apartments, opened in February of 2013. Additional in-town facilities, as of now, include a 26-unit Senior Housing Development, an 85-unit RV park and a 100-unit RV park.

Elkins said, although she strives to keep unsettled business confidential, the majority of her workdays are spent researching information for, and negotiating with, housing and business developers. There are numerous companies, differing in industry, currently interested in establishing sites in a city that seems to be square in the heart of Oklahoma. Chickasha is 40 minutes from the Sooner country of Norman, military town of Lawton and capital of the state, Oklahoma City. 

Potential establishments are expected to approximately 1,000 job opportunities for those living in the Chickasha area, which will strengthen the leg of primary jobs, but as First National Bank and Trust of Chickasha Business Development Officer Paul Lewis explained, the unemployment rate in Chickasha is right at five percent. It is reasonable to expect, future job opportunists will be relocating to Chickasha from elsewhere.  

“Most people don’t even know how much this community has grown,” Lewis said, “and as we provide better housing and bring more businesses in, our population is only going to continue to grow.”

When the population rises, Elkins said, the city of Chickasha will be able to target different types of retail. She aims to help formerly established business grow as well. 

“Growing population is very important as far as getting to the next level with everything else,” she said. “I’m going to be aggressively trying to somehow — whether it’s working with existing businesses or new — get quality jobs here that pay a good wage so that the people that live here can live a better quality of life, and then we can also attract new people that can come in and make our community bigger and stronger.”

“We’re never going to be Oklahoma City and we don’t want to be,” Elkins said, “but you can grow and be able to have a better quality of life based on adding some population, and that’s a target for me with whatever I do — trying to improve the quality of life for everyone in Chickasha.”