On a day in late summer, a major new plant here will open its door and the first shift will eagerly punch in for work, benefactors of the growing trend of business to move to the South and West.
But even now, as construction of the factory is under way and nearby access roads are widened, 124 local workers are already on the payroll, undergoing technical training and forming the vanguard of an eventual work force of 1,400.
They will make radial automobile tires for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. of Akron, Ohio.
Most of the 1,400 will be hired locally or will move on their own from elsewhere in the United States to take a job here. A few will be moved in by Goodyear.
What is happening on the 500-acre tract just west of town, where Goodyear will eventually invest $150 million to $180 million, is an example of what has happened in the South and in the West in recent years - and what analysts expect will continue to happen over the coming years. More jobs and more people for the South and West, much of them falling into the vast undersweep of the country now called the Sunbelt.
For, barring economic reversals nationally or internationally, no one really expects a reversal anytime soon in the long-term trends that led to this growth in the first place, growth that has placed more than half of the nation's jobs and people in the West and South.
These trends are expected to give the region a continuing momentum over the coming years - the decentralization of industry made possible by postwar technology and interstate highways, the extraction and availability of natural resources, the attractions of sand and sun and other recreational amenities, and the portrayal of the older, industralized North as a dying region, even by its own leaders.
There are fears in the Sunbelt, however, that federal policies and spending practices may have more impact on the Sunbelt than on older cities in the North and East.
"The federal government," the Houston Chronicle says as it moans about U.S. air pollution regulations, "is determined to slap practically impossible limitations on the industrial growth of this state, and more and more it looks like it is going to succeed."
Others, however, see the region as sowing the seeds of its own decay in its traditional conservative reluctance for active government to provide mass transit, better schools, better city planning, more services to concentrations of minority groups.
And behind all of this is the fear of many economists, public officials and other analysts that the current Sunbelt vs. Snowbelt war over federal spending may generate a sectionalism that will benefit neither region - nor the nation.
In addition, for all of its growth, the South still has lower, income and greater poverty - and the growth that has occurred has not been even in every state, every county, every city. More people still leave Louisiana than move there.
Yet the attraction of the Sunbelt remains, as more and more companies like Goodyear open plants or offices and more new businesses continue to be born here. Studies have found that the actual closing down of a Northern factory in favor of a Southern replacement accounts for only 1 to 2 per cent of the new jobs in the South and lost jobs in the North.
"What is happening," said Ralph R. Widner, president of the Academy for Contemporary Problems, a public policy research group, "is you have new plants, new expansions, and new firms at a one-third higher rate in the South. The death rate (of businesses) is the same (as in the North). But the birth rate is greater in the South."
The result has been unemployment rates in the Sunbelt generally well below the national rate - 2 full percentage points below it here in Oklahoma, two in Texas, 1.5 in North Carolina.
Concludes the Southern Growth Policies Board: "There was a high degree of co-relations (from 1970-75) between growth in population and in economic variaties such as personal income, enployment and state government tax revenue. States with the highest net migration generally performed well economically . . .
"All Southern states with population growth rates above the national average also outperformed the United States in key economic indicators such as employment and personal income growth. Most Southern states also outpaced the U.S. in state tax revenue growth."
If the link between population growth and economic growth is real then the same gains could be attributed to the lower Western states in the Sunbelt, Arizona and New Mexico, where immigration was even greater.
Here in Oklahoma, personal income rose from $8,7 billion dollars in 1970 to $14.2 billion in 1975 - at 63 per cent increase at a time when the United States as a whole saw at 55.6 per cent increase in total personal income. Per capita income in 1970 was $3,381 here, about 85 per cent of the nationwide average of $3,966. By 1975, per capita income in Oklahoma was $5,250 - 89 per cent of the national figure of $5,902.
So it is that while Oklahoma, and the Sunbelt, have made gains, they still lag behind the nation as a whole, although some anaylsts say that higher living costs in the North offset the actual doolar differences.
Here in Lawton, a city of 85,000 wholly dependent on Ft. Sill for its livelihood, Goodyear will become the area's largest industrial employer.
"We have no industry - only Ft. Sill with 6,000 jobs," said Sam Ard of the Lawton Industrial Development Service. "After that you've got Haggar slacks with 350."
Ard describes the city as essentially a service economy, servicing Ft. Sill. Goodyear will add a $20 million annual payroll, and it is estimates that that money will generate $8 million a year in retail trade, $7 million in bank deposits, 5,000 new people to work in jobs made possible by the Goodyear payroll and three new rertail establishments.
Under Oklahoma trust programs to finance new industry, Goodyear will voluntarily make $400,000 a year in payments in lieu of real estate and personal property taxes.
In all, the 1,400 Goodyear jobs represent more than a 50 per cent increase in Lawton's industrial employment, now estimated by Ard at 2,500. And that may be crucial to other kinds of economic growth.
"Initially," says the Southern Growth Policies Board, "the growth of manufacturing spurred both population and economic growth in the region. A self-sustaining momentum (then) resulted as new jobs were generated in response to the continuing immigration and to secondary growth related to industrial activity."
For the South as whole, the fastest growing industries from 1970 to 1975 were services, followed finance, insurance and real estate; state and local government, and retail trade. Slowest growing were agriculture (with an actual decline), manufacturing, federal government, and transportation, communications and utilities.
To be sure, federal policies have played some role in the economic improvement of the South - the Tennessee Valley Authority, the space programs, navigation and shipbuilding projects. But they have also cut the other way. The Census Bureau reports, for example, that of the nation's counties experiencing the highest rates of population loss, military cutbacks soley account for the population losses in eight counties, most of them in the South.
Some studies claim that Northern states have paid out more in federal taxes than they receive back in services, with the Sunbelt states receiving more in services than they pay in. Some Sunbelt officials challenge the view, and the battle is being fought in Congress over federal spending policies. Already, community development grant programs have been tilted to favor older industrial cities of the North.
Widner of the Academy for Contemporary problems takes, for his part, a slightly ironic view. "Much of what we're calling a problem," he said, "we've been trying to do for 40 years, develop Western resources, bring the South up to parity with the North. Now we're wringing our hands over it."
"As for the future," says the Southern Growth Policies Board, "it is likely that the region's population surge will continue, although at a less rapid pace. The energy-producing states should continue to experience rapid growth, while the rest of the South should grow at a more moderate rate. It appears the out-migration from some central cities in the South will continue, following trends in the rest of the nation.