Case Study: Business Development Expansion in Ponca City, OK
Katherine Long has been with the Ponca Works Development Authority for 16 years. In her time, she has been a champion for small businesses and helping the business community grow and flourish. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Katherine for more than a year now and have witnessed her passion for her community and helping others succeed in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Below is our conversation about their accomplishments and growth in the community.
Tell us a little more about Ponca City & What’s your community known for?
Katherine: Ponca City is 90 minutes away from Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Wichita. We have free wifi that's available within city limits and we’re in the final phase of taking broadband to home. With the completion of the broadband to home project, the City will be able to offer lower rates to businesses within the city limits. There are two lakes, Lake Ponca and Kaw Lake, withing 10 minutes of Ponca City and those of us who live here love that accessibility and enjoy sharing that enjoyment with others.
What is your role and how long have you been with Ponca City Development Authority?
Katherine: This is my 16th year with Ponca City Development Authority (PCDA) and to date, boredom has never been a problem. PCDA is funded by a half cent sales tax which is voted on by the taxpayers every five years, which allows us to be very supportive of industry and manufacturing and conduct outreach to our small businesses. My title is Small Business and Information Coordinator, so you call me with all your business needs. If you want to start a business, you’re new to town, or want to do extensive business planning, that’s what I do. In my time here, we’ve grown from a staff of three to eight. Our staff works really well together and we all love this community, which makes work enjoyable.
Can you share more about the Ponca Works program?
Katherine: Ponca Works is in its tenth year. This program grew out of trying to develop a pipeline with our blue collar workers. What that program has become is a way to connect employers with career and certification workers who are looking for employment opportunities. Ponca Works is able to assist our local employers become more attractive to these workers who are completing certifications and graduating from trade schools so they can find employment within our community. PCDA also realized the kids in our community didn’t know about local employment opportunities so we’ve begun marketing to the students in our community and placing internships so they know about the opportunities available to them within our community, especially to those people whose college may not be their path for their first job. Last year Ponca Works placed over 50 interns and this year we’re on track to place over double that number.
You mentioned getting more responsibilities from the city, can you talk more about that collaboration downtown?
Katherine: About six years ago, PCDA had a lot of great programs. Staff were running and the city accepted a donation of a six story commercial building downtown and gave the building to PCDA to manage. PCDA worked with the City of Ponca City’s grant writing office to put together a 1.2 million dollar matching EDA grant to renovate the building and turn it into what City Central is today. We’ve added conference space, a commercial kitchen, a cafe, a co-working space, an art gallery, and offices for tenants such as Ponca CIty Main Street, two tribal offices, and most importantly, several plug and play spaces. With no long term contracts, businesses can have office space immediately available for a day, a week or as long as needed.
The City, Chamber of Commerce, and PCDA occupy three corners on main street which created a log of synergy in the downtown corridor. Downtown businesses create a unique energy. Some of these downtown businesses are winners or past participants of the Business Plan Pitch-off competition such as a brewery and a med spa. The Ponca City Chamber of Commerce really helps support the business community especially when business owners are looking to close or switch hands.
What goals was your team trying to achieve when it came to Bludot?
Katherine: One of the main goals was to have everyone participate in a database - everyone was working off different spreadsheets, recording projects & leads, manufacturing, small business and staff wanted to combine all that information into a shared space so that important facts weren’t missed, duplicated, or lost. This assists with connecting the dots between Ponca Works, Business Retention and Expansion, and Small Business Development. This is important as three people are working in different areas and staff want to be able to store everything in one place. Having those daily transactions listed somewhere is really important for our team - especially for things like maternity leave and vacations.
I know you’ve built a lot of custom labels and customized Bludot a lot - how has that helped you?
Katherine: The main goal was to get all staff on board with using the system: PCDA has every generation of worker within our office, so creating labels was extremely helpful to allow as much customization as possible for everyone to use the platform for our unique roles. Without the labels, staff wouldn’t utilize it to the level that we are and this helps us save so much time. By being able to search via any data point, we can find exactly what we need.
What initiatives is your team going to be working on in the upcoming year?
Katherine: We’re in the process of building a 39,000 square foot speculation building in our airport industrial park which will enable our office to market to more projects and leads. We have an airport hangar which is available for lease and possible to buy, which continues to be tricky as Ponca City is not an aerospace company.
The internship program is growing rapidly so we want to expand that so our pipeline is full for the next five to six years. Ponca Works would like to have reach to local sixth graders to better showcase jobs and business in the school district to younger students.
Staff continues to explore setting up a revolving loan fund to help our small businesses in industry/manufacturing and retail and sales. PCDA isn’t involved in retail and sales, however working with our partners, we can help support the businesses needed in our community.
What advice do you have for others?
Katherine: PCDA always try to think outside the box and our brainstorming sessions are fabulous. My advice would be to get creative people in the room and use Bludot to pull up information such as wages and go look at your labels. By looking at our higher use industries and retail, we have seen so many ways staff can help businesses and our community grow based on building on the information we already have. We can use this information to think 10-15 years down the road to help continue to make our community sustainable. Bludot has allowed us to look at the backstory of our relationships with our business community and track trends. We’re glad that our whole team regardless of age or technical ability is able to use and understand Bludot, which helps us work together to accomplish our big goals.