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Orem official seeking tools to lure, keep firms
Development chief also sees need for some firms to revitalize

OREM -- The executive director of the commission for economic development isn't very worried over whether a car dealership chooses to locate in Provo rather than in Orem.

Orem is healthy financially and still "king of the hill," says Brad Whittaker. It isn't an economic blow for Rick Warner Toyota move to Provo anymore than it was a coup to have Provo/Orem Ford locate in Orem. It's just part of the free enterprise game.But he is concerned that he be given the tools he needs to keep and attract businesses.

"We think we could offer more with more tools," Whittaker said Monday. "We see businesses with needs such as a need for revitalization, particularly along State Street, and we feel a responsibility to help where we can."

Orem's government officials have been burned politically in the past over offering tax incentives or creating redevelopment projects.

"They are fairly sensitive to RDA and sales tax issues," Whittaker said, even though one example of a successful RDA venture, R.C. Willey, is now the largest sales tax generator for Orem..

However, he believes those in charge are acutely aware that the retail sales world is a competitive world that requires some give and take, sometimes even cash. The recent battle to keep ZCMI at the University Mall required that kind of negotiating tool.

"We don't have any tools, like cash incentives. We need those kinds of things," he said.

Whittaker had planned to present a business retention concept plan that would line out policies and ways to attract, keep and stabilize business growth to the Orem City Council but has decided to wait instead for a work session in July.

"What we need to do is brainstorm. What we have is really conceptual so it would be a little premature to discuss it Tuesday," he said.

Whittaker said the commission's role in Orem has been to serve as a voice for business, which sometimes becomes a challenge in balancing between the old and the new.

Established businesses are sometimes threatened by incoming businesses yet new businesses often serve to breath new life into an economic area, he said.

Costs need to be kept at a level that still allows businesses to make a profit. Sometimes a business needs a financial boost to expand or to kick up a notch.

"The businesses are the ones that carry the burden (when it comes to paying for street lighting and storm drains)," Whittaker said.

Competition is actually coming more and more from the south Salt Lake City area and from the north part of the county rather than from Provo, although Provo has put in two new malls -- Riverwoods and the Provo Towne Centre -- that are challenging Orem.

"We've been the king of the hill as far as retail sales and we'd like to maintain that position," Whittaker said. "Any dollar we collect from a nonresident sale is a dollar our taxpayers don't have to pay.

"We're certainly doing very well in spite of Provo's two new malls. Our sales tax revenue was up 5 percent in February compared to February of last year.

"But theirs went up 34 percent," he said.