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Calera businesses to receive help

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Several organizations have banded together to assist Calera when construction begins on the highway project through town later this year.

In July 2016, Oklahoma was awarded a $62 million FAST LANE grant to upgrade Highway 69/75 in Calera to Durant.

According to ODOT, the grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, will improve safety and efficiency on the US-69/75 corridor along approximately four miles from Chickasaw Road in Calera to US-70 in Durant. This segment currently has numerous access points, including three signalized intersections and a rail crossing, which create congestion and serious safety concerns. The grant will pay to upgrade US-69/75 to a controlled-access highway with overpasses and frontage roads, as well as improvements to rail crossings.

However, road construction projects can cause problems for businesses because access can be reduced, so the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center, Durant Area Chamber of Commerce, REI Women’s Business Center, and Choctaw Nation Small Business Development Services have partnered to develop a plan of action to assist Calera-area businesses that will be impacted by the highway project.

Members of the group spoke to the Calera Town Council at their meeting on Thursday and a presentation was made of what can offered.

Barbara Bonner-Stephens, regional director for Southeastern Oklahoma Small Business Development Center; Jessica Ervin, business advisor for SBDC, and Janet Reed, executive director of the Durant Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke at the meeting.

“We wanted to roll out a sample of what may help with businesses,” Reed said. “We have several Calera businesses who are chamber members and we do have a vested interest in this city. We want it to be prosperous.”

The goal of the group is to provide awareness, guidance, and assistance and is based upon strategies utilized in other areas of the country to minimize the effects of construction on well prepared businesses and business communities. The proactive approach will be outlined in the presentation and with support from the Town of Calera, would then serve as the framework for execution of the entire program through a collaborative effort with area resources. The project would last through the entire construction schedule.

Bonner-Stephens presented a slide show that outlines what services the group can offer. These include:

-Strategies for an economic downturn being proactive financially

-Mitigating construction disruption

-Survey of business’s expectations for 2019

Ervin said she would like to see businesses in town form an alliance to work together on strategies to help each other during the project.

Officials said a plan should be customized for Calera and they will assist in preparing a plan.

Mayor Cheryl Johnson thanked Bonner-Stephens, Ervin and Reed for making resources available to the town.

I am excited that REI and OSBC have offered their services,” Johnson said, when contacted after the meeting. “They can work individually and confidentially with our businesses to help them be in the best position possible for the duration of the highway project. The council will continue to support our businesses and help form the alliance that will be needed. I feel that by working together closely and supporting each other that we will be successful.”

One point of contention is that the highway plan does not include Main Street exits.

Calera officials and business owners are concerned the lack of Main Street exits will have a negative economic impact. That is not something being addressed by the entities who will be assisting Calera businesses.

“We can’t change the exits,” Reed said. “We don’t have that kind of clout.”

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