OKC continues to receive top honors

More recently,
CNNMoney named Oklahoma City “Most Business-Friendly City” in the
United States, noting its low cost of living and booming oil and
natural gas industries. According to the report, more than 6,000
small businesses participated in a survey of the nation’s 40 largest
metro areas.

While the
methodologies of these “best” lists are not altogether
scientific, maintaining a presence on them is essential.

“You want to be
on as many ‘good’ lists as there are … because it reinforces that
there’s something going on,” says Roy Williams, president and CEO
of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “It’s not unusual for a city
to be a one-time No. 1 and never be on the list again, but every
month, we’re pretty much on some No. 1 list, and when you can sustain
that over time, that’s what I think you consider making real
progress.”

CNNMoney reported
in June that a decade ago, 71% of graduates earning bachelor’s
degrees stayed in the Sooner State, but today, that number has
increased to 81%. More companies are moving to Oklahoma City, as
well. Boeing, for example, announced it will bring more than 1,500
employees from other states, while Continental Resources relocated
its headquarters to Oklahoma City earlier this year.

The report also
points to the city’s strong support for entrepreneurs with
organizations such as i2E.

“It sort of all
started back when Forbes named us the No. 1 most
recession-proof city … that was kind of the first major accolade we
got, and then it just seems like they never stopped after that,”
Williams says. “There are hardly any other metro cities, with the
exception of a city like Austin, Texas, that continue to get No. 1s
in accolades. To do it over a long period of time, and not just be a
blip on a radar screen, but to really sustain that momentum of job
creation, even airport growth, as well as maintaining a low cost of
living and just that economic vibrance over such a long period of
time, is unusual.”

WHY NOW?

Williams says it’s
the culmination of several factors: MAPS and the money spent on
infrastructure and projects, which have led to a higher quality of
place, which, in turn, has led to corporate investment that the city
previously had not seen.

But the market
also has matured.

“This is a time
in Oklahoma City’s life when we were under-retailed,
under-office-spaced, under-commercialized, because we have a very
conservative development community,” he says. “So all of a
sudden, when per-capita income rose dramatically here, unemployment
went dramatically down, capital investment occurred, and it really
created some strong economic times … because we had this pent-up
demand that didn’t get met for a number of years just because of the
nature of the community.

“And as a
result,” he says, “it gave us phenomenal numbers, because what
hurt a lot of other metropolitan areas was they overbuilt. They had
more retail, more housing, more development than they could sustain.
We never had that. We were too conservative, and we didn’t have the
national development community come here and overheat our economy.
And our financial institutions were very conservative.”

What has helped is
Oklahoma City didn’t witness any major corporate downsizing, layoffs
or restructuring. It didn’t lose any major employers during the
recession as so many other communities did.

“The
aviation/aerospace industry stayed very strong here. The bioscience
industry continued to grow. The energy industry did very well,”
Williams says. “And we were creating jobs in the hospitality
industry during all this time. Where most all other places were
losing numbers, we actually have surpassed our retail employment
numbers of pre-recession, and almost no other metropolitan area has
gotten even close to that because they’ve had such significant impact
on retail sales.”

Another boon is
that unlike many metropolitan cities, Oklahoma City has not had to
lay off city employees, policemen or firemen, or downsize public
service.

“So each one of
these in and of itself could not cause [being on so many ‘best’
lists] to happen, but when it all occurs simultaneously, you come up
with this very vibrant community where entrepreneurism is thriving
because of the strong economy,” Williams says. “Houses are being
built, new retailers are coming into the market, phenomenal
construction.”

KEEPING UP APPEARANCE

Both the national
media and out-of-state visitors who stayed in town for NBA finals
games came with little if any expectation, but they left thinking,
“This is a pretty cool place,” Williams says.

“Not only are
their fans crazy, but there’s Bricktown, there’s Downtown, there’s
the Oklahoma River, there are things going on in Oklahoma City that
they don’t see going on in other NBA cities they travel to. And they
see a positive attitude of the citizens about their community,” he
says.

In addition to all
the development already seen in the metro area, visitors also witness
cranes operating as construction continues on the arena, interstates
and streets.

“Then you also
have the $777 million in MAPS 3 that we haven’t even started spending
yet,” Williams says. “And people see the activity of SandRidge,
and they go to the [Oklahoma City National] Memorial to see what we
did to deal with that tragedy.”

In addition to the
economic impact, the exposure and the reaction of people who had no
idea what to expect when they arrived was more than favorable –
“they were impressed with their experience,” he says.

“Ironically, the
most resounding thing they talked about was the people: how friendly
people were, how helpful they were, how genuine they were, and how
enthusiastic they were about the Thunder, about their community,
about their city, and about what was going on, and how we were
building a better place; we weren’t trying to save a place,”
Williams says. “That kind of attitude is prevalent throughout the
community: that this is really a great time in Oklahoma City’s
history.

“So when you
continue to get those accolades, whatever they are, that suddenly
sort of says you’re real, you’re not a flash in the pan, that you
have something that you’re sustaining, and that’s really what it’s
all about: trying to retain that momentum,” he says. “Here’s a
city that has had momentum for years and continues that momentum and
does things to maintain that momentum. That would be the best list to
be on: the city with the most momentum.”

The rest of the best
Business-Friendly Cities:

No. 2: Dallas-Fort
Worth

No. 3: San Antonio

No. 4: Austin,
Texas

No. 5: Atlanta

No. 6: Colorado
Springs, Colo.

No. 7: Omaha, Neb.

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