Greater Oklahoma City is in the geographic center of North America equidistant from the east and west coasts and major trade partners of Canada and Mexico. The ten county region is at the crossroads of the U.S., sitting at the heart of three major national highways on the NAFTA corridor.
There's a reason Greater Oklahoma City is such a great place for business: Location. The ten county region is positioned within a day's drive of the rapidly-growing south-central region (OK, TX, AR, LA) projected to grow more than 44% during the next 25 years.
Noting low costs of living and good jobs, Forbes named Oklahoma City America's Most Affordable City.
At the height of the Great Recession, Forbes.com said Oklahoma City was the most recession-proof city in the country. Two and a half years later, the magazine has given the city another top ranking.
Noting low costs of living and good jobs, Forbes named Oklahoma City as America's Most Affordable City.
The magazine also noted Oklahoma City's friendly residents and an unemployment rate well below the national average, 6.3 percent compared to 9.5 percent.
"We searched for cities that had a balance of cheap living and economic prosperity - places with solid job markets, but where costs aren't prohibitive," magazine editors said. "In these cities, costs have stayed down, but residents have held onto steady incomes and decent jobs, making them a true bargain."
Forbes looked at all metropolitan statistical areas with populations of at least 100,000. They were ranked on the cost of a basket of goods and services, including groceries, health care and transportation, as of the second quarter of 2010.
The magazine also measured the monthly cost of housing as a percentage of household income.
The average sale price of an Oklahoma City-area home in September was $158,755, up 6.7 percent from September 2009, and the median price was $135,000, up 4.8 percent, according to the Oklahoma City Metro Association of Realtors.
The next four spots on the Forbes list went to Pittsburgh; Buffalo, N.Y.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Nashville, Tenn. The top 10 also includes three Texas cities: San Antonio, Houston and Austin, along with Louisville, Ky., and Birmingham, Ala.
"State capitals and university towns have vibrancy because of their job base, the stability of jobs and cultural diversification," said James Gaines, a research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.
The ranking was the latest in a string of kudos for Oklahoma City. In October, Oklahoma City was named a Top 25 Performing City by the Milken Institute, No. 7 Best City for Income Growth by Portfolio.com, a Top 5 Fastest Growing City by Forbes and a Top 10 State for Doing Business by Area Development Magazine.
"In times like these, value is key to everything we do as a chamber," said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. "From attracting new business, retaining and fostering growth with our current companies to attracting conventions and visitors, the number one factor on everyone's mind is value. Affordability isn't always about being the cheapest, it is also about the quality you get for your dollar."
The Boeing Co. recently announced plans to move 550 high-paying engineering jobs here. The company cited low costs of living and doing business and economic development incentives in the decision to move the jobs from Long Beach, Calif.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Boeing represent the dreams of economic recruiters across the country -- companies that were enticed to move their corporate headquarters.
For Plano, Texas, the opportunity to lure J.C. Penney 15 years ago resulted in the arrival of 3,800 employees and construction of a $200 million headquarters. The cost: a 25 percent tax rebate. Boeing, meanwhile, moved its 500-employee headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001 after being offered $60 million in city and state tax breaks.
Could $40 million included in a new Devon Energy Corp. tower tax increment finance district give Oklahoma City hope for a similar success story?
Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, is among those cautioning that the national recession may make it difficult for any company to consider a move any time soon.
"Right now, there is not much activity in the marketplace, mostly there is downsizing and consolidating, not relocating," Williams said. "The opportunity is not really out there. But when we do recover, there won't be a lot of cities out there in the position to do this."
Such a delay in opportunity, Williams said, is actually advantageous for Oklahoma City. The incentive money, he adds, won't be easily accessible for a few years.
Building the pot
The $40 million incentive pool was added late in the formation of the tax increment finance district.
When Devon Energy Chief Executive Officer Larry Nichols unveiled plans for the company's $750 million new world headquarters, he was quick to announce that instead of seeking the district incentives for his project, he instead wanted to see the money used to improve streets, sidewalks, parks and public spaces.
His goal: to use the new Devon tower and revitalized central business district to lure more headquarters to downtown Oklahoma City.
"Maybe it won't be a giant company, but certainly companies important to Oklahoma City," Nichols said. "What's just as important is the quality of life and business environment of a city. And during the last 10 years Oklahoma City has demonstrated enormous potential for growth and development."
Nichols said his experience as chairman of the chamber and vice president of its economic development committee convinced him a lot of companies are looking to locate branches or relocate operations to "friendly" places. Nichols started out seeking a tax increment financing that would revive "worn out, tired streets" and add new life to downtown. The opportunity for incentives coincided with expansion of the plan.
Assistant City Manager Cathy O'Connor said the amount of money generated by the district increased when the committee that oversees the district agreed to add sales taxes