Leaders from Stillwater and surrounding communities were invited to Central Electric Cooperative on Tuesday, October 11, to learn about the new Smart Community Source initiative. The meeting was hosted in part by Smart Energy Source, the NESI-SES (National Energy Solutions Institute-Smart Energy Source) Association, Central Electric Cooperative, City of Stillwater and the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce. Smart Community Source is a collaborative effort to begin planning for and addressing the challenges facing communities today. Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle, Stillwater Chamber CEO Ted Allison and Central Electric Cooperative CEO David Swank addressed the crowd speaking about these challenges.
McNickle stated that declining sales tax revenues are a concern for many municipals across the state and Stillwater is no exception. “Sales tax collections are continuing to decrease and have been decreasing since 2014,” McNickle said. He said that in addition to a slowing economy, online sales are hurting local businesses as online sales are not subject to sales tax. “Stillwater businesses are facing an 8 percent disadvantage up front, because unless the online retailer has a brick-and-mortar store in Oklahoma, they are not subject to sales tax,” McNickle said. McNickle estimates that Stillwater is losing $10 million in sales to online businesses which equate to $1 million in lost sales tax revenue.
Allison spoke about the Chamber’s role in economic development and growing the local economy. Allison echoed McNickle’s concern for sales being lost to online retailers. “Our local businesses are struggling to grow and compete in today’s online environment,” said Allison. Another challenge Allison recognized is the need for communities to commit to attracting and retaining the young workforce. “Communities that aren’t being progressive in attracting the young talent pool are having a hard time attracting businesses to their community,” Allison said.
Swank began his presentation posing two questions to the crowd: “What if we don’t embrace change and capture the opportunities that change presents us?” and “Why not – why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of today’s opportunities?” Swank said that technology will be the enabler that allows us to take advantage of these opportunities, but technology is also a contributing factor to many of the challenges communities are facing today.
Swank addressed the major challenges facing today’s communities. Growing urbanization is perhaps the most impactful as smaller cities and towns are losing residents to larger metropolitan areas. Infrastructure stress results from communities having inadequate funds to invest in critical infrastructure such as roads, electrical, water and wastewater systems. Increasing competition from online retailers is hurting local businesses, and they aren’t able to compete when it comes to attracting and retaining the younger workforce. The expectations of citizens are growing as citizens are expecting instant, anywhere, anytime, personalized access to information and services. Exponential technology will disrupt communities, but it can also be beneficial in confronting these challenges.
The Smart Community Source initiative will serve as a catalyst for communities to plan and develop resources that help communities become smarter. The initiative aims to develop community leaders who can create a vision and lead change, create community alliances and a smart ecosystem that take advantage of collective intelligence, evaluate smart technologies for smart urban development and critical infrastructure, and adopt programs that improve quality of life from communities.
“Collaboration will be key for this initiative to be successful,” Swank said. “We encourage each of you to join us and engage in this process.”
To find out more about the Smart Community Source initiative, visit the website www.SmartCommunitySource.com or look for Stillwater Smart Community on Facebook at facebook.com/StillwaterSmartCommunity or on Twitter at twitter.com/StwOK_SCS.