Things are good in Oklahoma City. Forbes ranks us the most recession-proof city in the country. Executive Traveler magazine has a story about what a great city we live in. The New York Times had a front-page story about the Oklahoma River. This is a new Oklahoma City.
Certainly some of the success can be credited to the energy industry. Oil and natural gas prices have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes for the state. Oklahoma energy companies have added several thousand people to their payrolls with salaries and benefits that are better than ever. Thousands of small companies support the energy industry, so business is good for retailers, real estate, office buildings, travel agencies and even grocery stores.
A lot of the credit for Oklahoma’s improving image and profile can be credited to the city’s public and private leadership. Mayor Mick Cornett is a strong, positive voice; his initiative on obesity was a great example of gutsy leadership.
Larry Nichols and Aubrey McClendon, along with many other business leaders, are investing their personal and professional fortunes to make Oklahoma City a first-rate place to live and work. University of Oklahoma President David Boren; Tom McDaniel at Oklahoma City University; Roger Webb at the University of Central Oklahoma and Burns Hargis at Oklahoma State University have elevated the focus and discussion on education. The flow of money to scholarships, world-class speakers, new programs, new buildings and innovative programs is making our public and private universities the best they have ever been. The metropolitan hospital community is expanding in all directions. This investment and growth will result in health care programs and facilities we used to have to travel to other states to receive.
Several new hotels in downtown Oklahoma City are a consequence of the continuing success of MAPS. The SuperSonics are coming; Ed Evans is buying Oak Tree Golf Club with the promise of making it one of the finest golf courses in America. Mike Knopp’s vision for the river has turned Oklahoma City into a venue for Olympic trials. When you visit the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, you’ll see photos of rowing, in addition to the more iconic cowboy, oil well and agricultural pictures of the past.
The new Oklahoma City image started with MAPS, but the city’s first boost was created by people who laid the foundation decades ago. Unfortunately, that group of city fathers didn’t pass the baton of leadership until late in their lives. As they aged, there was no younger generation of leaders to keep the momentum going. In the Seventies and Eighties, the city slowed and the economy went south. Ron Norick ended the leadership drought, making MAPS a reality, which led to Bricktown and the birth of the Presbyterian Research Park; Gov. Frank Keating cleaned up Lincoln Boulevard; the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics came into existence. We rebuilt the Civic Center Music Hall, saved the Skirvin Hotel, invested in Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley and Core to Shore, and now Devon is building a corporate office downtown.
The new Oklahoma City is a consequence of looking forward, taking risks and progressive leadership ” and America has taken notice. Nice work, Oklahoma!
Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.