Is it a wise investment, or millions of dollars misused?
That's what many Tulsans are asking about the $750 million Vision2 bond package, after the City of Wichita, Kansas offered roughly $60 million in incentives to try and steal Spirit Aerosystems away from Tulsa.
Supporters of Vision2 say that kind of competition is a reason voters should approve Vision2. The bond package would fund more than $250 million worth of infrastructure and facility upgrades and improvements to businesses at the airport, specifically, Spirit Aerosystems, American Airlines, and the Tulsa bus company. It also includes at least $53 million for a deal-closing fund to draw new business and jobs to Tulsa.
"It provides us an opportunity to have a level playing field where we can go out and attempt to incentivize businesses from other communities to come into Tulsa," Tulsa County Commissioner and Vision2 supporter John Smaligo said.
Smaligo said incentive offers are just the way business is done these days.
"If we are not providing incentives in some way we are going to be behind other communities like Wichita that are willing to offer these incentives," Smaligo said.
But J.B. Alexander, chairman of the Tulsa County Republican Party and staunch opponent of Vision2, said showering corporations with money and incentives has its flaws.
"Wichita gave almost $500 million to Boeing," Alexander said. "Didn't work. Indianapolis gave over $300 million to United. Didn't work."
"It's going to break us is what it's going to do."
But Smaligo said the Vision2 incentives are smarter and safer, because the money is invested, not handed over as cash.
"Whatever money is spent, because we're not giving cash payments to companies, that money is going to remain here in Tulsa, and provide us the opportunity to incentivize companies years down the road," Smaligo said.
But Alexander said the Vision2 supporters are simply going about their efforts all wrong.
"Eighty percent of our jobs are created in this nation by small business and smaller corporations," he said. "Yet we're funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into a few larger companies for some jobs. And what we need to do is start concentrating on that 80 percent."
Smaligo said Vision2 focuses on both big and small businesses.
"If we were to lose those [Spirit Aerosystems] jobs, think of all the other small businesses that supply products and services to those larger businesses," he said.
"We want to go back to the table and say 'yes, we've got to do economic development for Tulsa,'" Alexander said. "'This is not the way to do it.'"
Mark Walker, Senior Manager of Communications and Public Affairs for Spirit AeroSystems released this statement about recent coverage about the company:
"Earlier stories have created confusion about Spirit AeroSystem’s commitment to Tulsa. Our company’s history in Tulsa shows a strong commitment to the community and its workforce. Earlier this week, the Wichita City Council voted to approve $59.5 million in industrial revenue bonds for Spirit AeroSystems’ operations in Wichita. One point of clarification is that revenue bonds are different than direct incentives. We do believe this is an excellent example of a community and its citizens collaborating to ensure future success. Additionally, the bonds issued in Wichita are for the company’s Wichita current operations.
Proposition 1 in Vision2 aims to make investments in citizen-owned infrastructure at the TIA Complex. As a tenant, Spirit AeroSystems’ operations in the Tulsa community will be positively impacted through facility upgrades. Responsible planning for facility upgrades will enable the collaborative partnerships in Tulsa with Spirit AeroSystems and other aerospace and manufacturing companies to continue, helping the companies be more successful and retain a large Tulsa workforce.”