Mayor hosts yearly development roundtable

Nichols was
on hand at the annual Mayor’s Development Roundtable May 16 to receive the
Award for Outstanding Development for the company’s $750 million world
headquarters Downtown.

Cornett
said after years with few businesses opening, he had lost count how many have come
online since last year’s event. In that 2011 address, he didn’t have as much to
report due to the economic slowdown that began in 2008.

“2011
seemed to be a year when we didn’t open a lot compared to what we’ve done in
other years,” he said.

He also had
plenty to crow about in terms of positive national press for the city and the
low unemployment rate. But low unemployment numbers made for awkward
conversations he has had with his counterparts in struggling cities. Cornett
called Oklahoma City’s 4.4 percent unemployment rate “unexplainably low.” He
said an even more difficult conversation, and one he has been able to mostly avoid, is
when mayors must explain to the populace why things are bad and not getting any
better.

“When you
have to go to your citizens and explain why you’re laying off public safety
officials, and schoolteachers and closing libraries those are really tough
times and really difficult things to do,” he said.

Despite
some areas still struggling, Cornett said Oklahoma City deserves the
renaissance it is experiencing. He traced economic development back to the
failure of Penn Square Bank in the early 1980s through the decade that saw an
oil bust where top talent fled the state. From the first MAPS project to
current development, he said the city is poised for continued growth and
prosperity.

He pointed out
the largest public and private projects in state history were set for completion
this year with the Interstate 40 crosstown relocation and Devon’s headquarters.

And other
cities are taking notice. Cornett said the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber
takes a group each year to visit another city. For that effort, he said he
expected at least one other city would bring a coterie here.

“The last
time I heard is we have six cities pending visits into Oklahoma City,” he said.
“They’re here to figure out how we’ve done what we’ve done.”

One project
that Cornett touted – one that few residents will ever actually visit – will help
lure another kind of top talent. The Oklahoma City Thunder completed its
practice facility. As a home away from home and an office for basketball
players, Cornett said current and future players look at amenities like that
when deciding where they would like to live and work.

“We’re a
small-market team,” he said. “This year, next year, 10 years from now, we’re
going to be competing with a lot of other cities for talent.”

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