Dave Lopez, incoming Secretary of Commerce for Governor Mary Fallin, expressed optimism today (Friday, January 28) about promoting the Oklahoma economy. He also said he understood concerns many legislators have raised about existing business incentives, tax credits and exemptions.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK on the day he began “edging toward state service,” Lopez said, “I’m still learning, and need to learn more. On the tax credits, exemptions and business incentives, a continual review of what you’re doing as a state is important. Certainly, I think we’ve done well with the Quality Jobs Program and the 21st Century jobs. It will be vital even in theses tough times to keep those in our ‘tool box’ as we work to attract more business to the state, and keep what we have.”
Concerning the announced review of incentives being undertaken by state Rep. David Dank, Lopez said, “I know David and understand the passion he brings to assuring these programs are run right. I believe a good job can be done of measuring the effectiveness of those programs, and we should ask for the counsel of the best programs and businesses in the private sector on how to do it.
Asked how much room he feels there is for improvement in the various incentives, Lopez reflected, “I know too little to comment much, but I do believe that circumstances change, just as times change. That means that some programs appropriate to another era might not still be the best ideas for here and now. Factors in what successfully leverages business interest in your state, or investment, evolve over time. What works in one era may not work in another time.”
Lopez continued, “There is information on ‘best practices’ and that should be our guide. The kind of budget review and program review that is under way may be something we need to do not only in tough times like these, but all the time. A careful review is something we might want to do all the time, as a state.”
He reflected, “It’s way too early for me to say too much about any recommendations I might make for changes, or for retaining aspects of the programs. I will say that I am glad David Dank plans to work hard on this. I believe both he and the folks at the Chambers [of Commerce] are serious and want to do the right thing.”
Lopez expressed optimism about the overall picture for the Sooner State, telling CapitolBeatOK, “The positioning for Oklahoma, despite all our challenges, is just fantastic. We have not seen the same drop in business activity and income that has happened in other places. Oklahoma is viewed, accurately, as a relatively low cost and high value place to do business. We have to get united to take advantage of opportunities in recruiting on both of the coasts of the country.”
He concluded, “I have to add one thing, and that is that I really believe that the most important thing we can do to build is our state is to concentrate on retention and expansion of existing sources of jobs. Nurturing what we have, listening to our current ‘customers’ in Commerce and the rest of government is absolutely essential. And, it turns out, that’s a vital element in recruitment as well. Naturally, businesses thinking of relocation tend to check out the local environment before they make decisions. Bottom line, jobs retention is crucial aspect of economic development.”
The secretary-designate is a longtime Oklahoma City leader. Specific examples of this abound in his resume.
On the day of his appointment by Governor Fallin, Lopez helped launch the annual private fundraising drive for Allied Arts, an umbrella group providing practical support for 20 cultural and performing groups.
In November, Lopez represented American Fidelity at the launch of OKCEOs (Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunity), a collaborative effort of the Oklahoma Business Roundtable, Smart Start Oklahoma and the Potts Family Foundation.
Lopez has been active in the work of the privately-funded Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, including the improvements made over recent years at Wilson Elementary in the historic Mesta Park neighborhood. The improvements were financed by a combination of private money and tax revenues derived from the historic MAPS for Kids referenda that city voters approved in November 2001.