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Oklahoma to Use $10 Million to Boost Investment, Innovation

The state Department of Commerce will allocate funds to support existing manufacturers’ projects that are innovative, bolster a product’s supply chain or target new markets, in an effort to diversify the state’s economy.

(TNS) — As Oklahoma continues its march out of the economically disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, the state Department of Commerce is setting aside $10 million for existing manufacturers to spur investment and innovation.

The Oklahoma Innovation Expansion Program is designed to support high-impact, new capital investment across a broad range of industries to help diversify the state's economy, lead to new product development and increase capacity, the department said.

"I think this is one of the most innovative programs that we have come up with at the Department of Commerce to assist our legacy companies here in Oklahoma," said Executive Director Brent Kisling. "And that's really been our theme for this year, coming out of pandemic, is taking care of our own. They're the ones that stayed strong all the way through and kept our citizens employed, and we want to help them to continue to grow."

The goal, Kisling said, is to support projects that give Oklahoma a return on investment by creating more tax revenue and business activity. Awards will support existing jobs and the creation of new jobs. "And we think, in the long term, this program is something we can deliver every year," Kisling said. "But in order to make it a net benefit to the state, it has to be new innovative products, it has to be new revenue sources, new employment that (companies) would be adding."

The OIEP program will make monthly cash payments in the form of payroll tax rebates. It targets companies with a new innovative project, a project that shortens or strengthens the supply chain for the product being manufactured, and projects designed to target new markets.

This will be the second year in a row that Commerce used funds set aside by the Oklahoma Economic Development Pooled Finance Act for this purpose.

As the pandemic triggered an economic crisis last year, the department and Gov. Kevin Stitt's administration launched a similar incentive called the Oklahoma Bounce Back Assistance Program.

Commerce also oversaw the Manufacturing Reboot program last year, which used $5 million from funds normally used to lure business here to help companies develop new products and or expand their capabilities.

The original Bounce Back Program launched in April of last year assisted 87 companies with $8.7 million in awards. Those funds triggered capital investment for approved projects of over $40 million.

One of those companies that received Bounce Back funds was the Durant company Roll Offs USA, which manufacturers waste management containers. The company used the funding to purchase equipment, which allowed them to start making in-house some parts that were previously imported from China.

With the launch of OIEP, the state is hoping to expand this type of opportunity to more manufacturers.

"To become a Top 10 state, we need to support the continued growth and success of our existing businesses," Stitt said. "The Oklahoma Innovation Expansion Program will lead to more jobs, a more diverse economy and continue to show the nation that Oklahoma is open for business."

Eligible companies must have a minimum annual payroll of $625,000, with a minimum capital investment of $50,000.

OIEP's max award is $150,000, but Commerce said manufacturers with projects that exceed that amount should contact the department to see if they're eligible for other programs.

Participating businesses will be required to provide quarterly reports verifying employment levels and expenditures, as well as submit verification of purchase and installation of machinery and equipment.

Companies can apply for the program between April 27 and May 3. More information about the program is available online at the Department of Commerce website. It's likely the program will continue on a yearly basis with new applicants.

(c)2021 The Oklahoman. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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