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Odessa Chamber hires economic development director

Authors: 
Odessa American

Posted: Thursday, August 11, 2016 5:45 am

 

The Odessa Chamber of Commerce hired the Andrews’ economic development director to fill a position vacant since May aimed at expanding and diversifying local business.

The new hire, Wesley Burnett, will start Sept. 6 after about 10 years as director of economic development for the Andrews Economic Development Corporation. Before that, Burnett served for nearly 7 years with the Odessa chamber as the director of business retention and expansion, a role now fulfilled by various economic development staffers including the head of the department.

Chamber CEO Renee Earls said officials with the organization recruited Burnett after about 10 people applied for the position. Earls said soon after she was hired in May to replace retiring CEO Mike George that she hoped to fill the economic development director position with a native Odessan already trained in the field.

“He has done a really nice job for them in economic development,” Earls said. “You can see how the city has really grown over there. He’s also a native Odessan. He knows the people.”

Burnett worked in Andrews to develop two business parks since the boom began around 2010, together home to some 13 businesses.

The smaller of the two, with four businesses, includes companies that specialize in distribution, electrical supply and manufacturing. The larger, with nine, includes oilfield businesses such as service and trucking companies.

“We knew where our bread was being buttered during those years when oil was $100 a barrel, so we tried to provide some land and some tax benefits and we were very successful doing that,” Burnett said.

But Burnett said too that the economic development changes during a bust, when attending trade shows and targeting companies to lure to the area becomes more important. During a boom, he said much of the work becomes responding to companies trying to move into the area and working to retain existing businesses.

“You have to work a little harder when its down but that’s when you get the word out about what you have and the benefits of growing or expanding here,” Burnett said, adding that he would have to balance recruitment with retaining existing business in an area dependent on the oil industry. “It’s going to come back and it’s going to expand again, so you have to be ready for that too.”

Burnett replaces Scott Jones, who resigned from job in May. The Odessa Development Corporation funds the $140,000 salary position through sales tax.

The Andrews Economic Development Corporation receives a half cent per dollar of sales tax, compared to a quarter cent that the ODC gets. But the ODC’s budget is larger, bringing in an estimated $7.5 million in sales tax revenue this year compared to the more than $1 million Andrews gets.

In developing the Andrews business parks, the agency directly owned the land and provided it for free. ODC works with existing land developers.

The Andrews agency also directly employs its economic development director, while the ODC contracts with the chamber for that work.

In recruiting businesses to Odessa, Burnett said he sees advantages that include nearby interstates and railways in a larger city, with a bigger team at the economic development department to help.

Today, the ODC is retooling its strategic plan and studying what industries the organization should target, including whether to focus on drawing business from a specific industry instead of multiple sectors at once.

“There’s no reason in the world that Odessa can’t be extremely successful in the future to build on what they have,” Burnett said.