A rural Oklahoma town is trying to build a $3,000,000 airport to lure in jobs, but it's having trouble getting the money. The News on Six learned about this story at a six in-touch meeting with the Okemah Chamber of Commerce. The town's congressman, Tom Coburn, isn't sure the airport project is a good idea.
Okemah has about 3,000 people. City leaders are trying to rev up economic development. They say in order to do that, they need an airport. "There are companies out there that when they look at potential sites, that is a consideration. A paved runway," says Mike Hagy, Okemah Mayor.
All the town has now is a 2,400 foot dirt runway. Town leaders want to build a paved 5,000-foot runway. They've already bought the land where they hope to build it. Hagy says the town can't fill up its industrial park because most companies aren't interested in towns without an airport. So he's hoping to get some federal money to support the project.
However, Oklahoma congressman Tom Coburn isn't convinced the town needs an airport. "Bring me a study that says that if we put Oklahoma tax dollars, because in essence they're Oklahoma tax dollars that go to Washington and come back, in an airport in Okemah, that it will have a positive economic impact. And they've yet to bring me that," says Coburn.
Hagy says an airport might not cause an economic boom. It might not cause the industrial park to just fill up with large corporations. But it might help pull in some of the companies that aren't interested in them now. "This is not an economically well part of the state. And when communities are ready to step up to the plate and make the investment, we would hope that our congressman would support us and help us get there," says Okemah chamber committee member Joe Back.
Coburn says he will back the project if he knows it will really bring jobs. The city of Okemah believes it will. Officials say they have to do something now because the town can't count on its agriculture or oil industries to support it into the next century.