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TMCNet:  ODC gives $1.5M for desal research, questions Hispanic chamber

[August 17, 2011]

ODC gives $1.5M for desal research, questions Hispanic chamber

Aug 17, 2011 (Odessa American - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- ODESSA, Texas -- Odessa Development Corp. members approved a preliminary budget Tuesday, but they will be looking to amend it at their September meeting to reduce funding to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce by tying the money to the chamber's efforts in bringing in manufacturing jobs.

During their afternoon meeting, ODC members voted to approve a preliminary budget of $15,217,529 in total expenditures for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, with a proposed expenditure of $111,047 for the OHCC.

The ODC is funded from general sales tax receipts that the city of Odessa receives. The funds can only be expended for manufacturing and industrial purposes.

Originally, OHCC requested funds of $114,118 for the next fiscal year. Keith said ODC's allocated funds to the organization were 83.8 percent of the chamber's budget, and of that percentage, 71 percent goes toward the chamber's payroll.

ODC members expressed concerns that the proposed expenditure may be too high an amount to give based on an unclear OHCC budget provided by OHCC president Manny Puga.

"We've spoken in the past that it needs to be more complete and more precise, instead of raw numbers," board member Rick Carlton said to Puga. "I still think that needs to be done if we're going to continue this relationship." Puga left immediately after the budget was approved but said in a phone interview that he was not given enough notice on how ODC members wanted the OHCC budget formatted.

The chamber receives outside funding only from ODC. Due to the nature of ODC, the corporation can only allocate funds to promote and develop industrial and manufacturing enterprises.

Because the OHCC budget was incomplete to ODC members, it was unclear how ODC funds were being used, whether for retail or industrial purposes.

"This money needs to be spent on manufacturing jobs," Odessa city manager Richard Morton said to Puga. "You can help (retailers produce jobs), but you have to produce manufacturing jobs." Puga said OHCC doesn't have the luxury of organizations like ODC and the chamber to travel to entice manufacturers to come to Odessa.

"Only 5 percent of the businesses are manufacturing here. I don't have the resources that ODC has to get manufacturing from out of town," Puga said. "They travel; we don't have that luxury. We have to knock on doors." Board members asked for more feedback from Puga on how much time and effort is spent on pursuing manufacturing development to justify the funds allocated to OHCC. Morton suggested that the time spent on chasing manufacturing jobs should be reflected in the funding, which will be changed at the next ODC meeting in September.

During the discussion of a general development plan, OHCC took another hit when ODC members voted to reduce the responsibilities of the chamber to administer and promote programs to encourage the creation of manufacturing and industrial facilities. The responsibility, which had been exclusive to the OHCC, was opened to any qualified contractors.

ODC president Austin Keith called for the reduction because he said OHCC lacked results that correlated to the money ODC was spending on the chamber. Since ODC started funding OHCC in 2006, the corporation has spent $488,792, Keith said.

"That's a lot of money we've expended to them. I can't see how we've justified in expending (those) funds," Keith said. "They need to stand on their own. They need to be self-sufficient." "It's hard to see what they produce if you can't see a return on investment," Keith said. "I think they're a great organization, but we need to be accountable." Also included in the proposed budget, ODC members did as expected and approved Keith's request to set aside $1.5 million as a line item for desalination research in the next fiscal year.

Keith gave an update on a desalination plant that would be used for industrial purposes. Desalination is the process of treating brackish water to remove salt and other minerals from underground water sources.

"Ultimately (the $1.5 million) gets us going and gets the wheels turning," Keith said. "ODC was created to foster industry; we can't do that without water." Keith and seven other community members traveled on June 16 to El Paso's Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant, the world's largest inland desalination plant. The next phase of the research committee would be to find the right aquifers to provide more than 30 million gallons of brackish water and disposal wells for the salt residuals, Keith said.

In other business, the board also approved a request by Odessa Chamber of Commerce director of business retention and expansion Arleene Loyd. ODC will pay half of the training costs of manufacturing and industrial businesses requesting to improve the efficiency of their work force.

Miether Bearing Products and Triangle Pump Components already requested to receive the training program. ODC will pay $9,750 for one training session for Miether Bearing and $23,545 for the full year-long program for Triangle Pump. Half of the expenses will be paid before training and the other half following the companies' completion of the program.

The ODC also heard a presentation of project Green Freedom from University of Texas of the Permian Basin president David Watts and professor Jim Wright. Green Freedom is a project that would create synthetic fuel by extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and hydrogen from water.

Watts asked ODC to fund the project $100,000 a year for up to four years. The board did not vote on the request.

The board also appointed Jim Breaux to the compliance committee and Nard Hendricks to the budget committee. The board approved an investment policy and heard economic agency reports.

@OAlifestyle Editor's note: The source of the Odessa Development Corp.'s funding was unclear in a previous version of this article. The Odessa American regrets the error.

To see more of the Odessa American, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.oaoa.com. Copyright (c) 2011, Odessa American, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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