The Altus Southwest Area Economic Development Corporation met in regular session Thursday at the City of Altus Municipal Complex.
The committee works to promote the economic growth of Altus, Jackson County and Southwest Oklahoma for gainful employment for the citizens of the area and to assist and support existing businesses.
In light of announcements that several retailers in Altus — including Rue21, JC Penney, Payless ShoeSource, Factory Connection and Zales — will be closing the doors in the coming months, the committee turned its attention to the future of Altus businesses.
“We never want to see a business close and we try to help those businesses that are considering closing in any way we can,” Brian Bush, chief executive officer and president of the Altus Chamber of Commerce said. “But once the decision to close is made, our goal is to try to replace them with another business for the long term.”
In an effort to bring in new businesses, the committee discussed working on plans to promote the Altus Plaza Shopping Center at an upcoming economic development convention as three of the five stores closing are currently there.
“We want to encourage growth and encourage companies to invest in our community,” Bush said. “We have a real product to sell with information on size, location and traffic count that can make an impact on a developer looking for a place to bring a business.”
A “Shop Local” campaign began in 2016 with Altus Approved, a summer-long marketing campaign to promote local businesses, and for many Altus residents it may seem that business closings show how that mentality has not taken root.
But that isn’t the case, according to committee member Jason Winters.
“What I’ve found is that local shoppers were supporting at least Rue21, JC Penney and Payless ShoeSource and they were making a profit,” Winters said. “We hope other companies will hear that these closings were not Altus’ fault.”
Weighing in on the discussion, District 1 Commissioner Marty Clinton explained the advantage online retailers have over brick-and-mortar establishments.
“Our local businesses are at a 9 percent disadvantage right away,” Clinton said. “As long as online retailers aren’t required to submit taxes, local businesses can’t compete with their prices. Having our federal delegation working on that is vital.”
Amazon announced Oklahoma sales tax would be collected on purchases beginning March 1. Later in March, House Bill 2531 passed in the state House of Representatives that would attempt to require many online retailers to add Oklahoma sales tax to the purchase price primarily for those retailers who do not maintain business operations in the state.
“So what’s Altus doing?” Bush said. “We’re reaching out to businesses that are struggling and trying to do what we can to help and if we can’t and they choose to close, we begin to look for more businesses to bring to the community.”
According to Billy Graham, interim planning director, plans for some of those new businesses are already underway.
Plans for Hobby Lobby are being discussed among the city department heads before being approved, a process Graham said should take about two weeks.
Graham also said that a first-floor remodel is planned for 1604 N. Main St. for a Veterans Affairs health care facility.
Next door, Locke Supply Company recently finished moving from an old to a new facility, but businesses aren’t the only things added to the community.
“It’s a busy place around here,” Graham said. “For every three houses that are finished, about three more come in.”
As the newly elected president of the Altus Southwest Areas Economic Development Corporation, Jim Gover turned his attention to the surrounding communities in Jackson County and Southwest Oklahoma.
“I’d like to see this committee work on development in our satellite communities who bring so much to the area,” Gover said.
Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.