California reporter sees the modern truth of Oklahoma City

Published: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 7:00 am By: Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Today's business cover story - a reversal of "The Grapes of Wrath" - marks a triumphant moment at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, but is mostly newsworthy because of its initial audience: thousands of Californians.

Sacramento Bee reporter Phillip Reese spent five days in Oklahoma City talking to California transplants who recently made their home here and surveyed for himself a community that bears little resemblance to the images that have haunted Oklahoma since the 1930s.

Interviewees told a story most locals already know: wages are lower than the coasts, but costs are lower as well and the net difference tends to go in Oklahoma's favor.

Add in pictures and video from Bricktown, the Heritage Hills neighborhood, the Arts Quarter and other hip city backdrops, a relatively healthy unemployment rate, and you end up with a tantalizing way out for thousands of Californians who are enduring a far grimmer picture in the Golden State.

Roy Williams, chamber president, admits this kind of coverage far outshines any magazine ranking (though he's still very happy with the marks the city has been collecting the past couple years).

"When you talk to the man on the street, that has more credibility than any magazine or third party crunching numbers," Williams said Monday. "Sure, we use them because it's often the only third party info that exists. But when you get this sort of thing, it's verification of what those magazines have said - Oklahoma City is where the future is."

The story's images, dominated by downtown and Bricktown, also serve as a reminder to those who might forget the lessons of the past decade: the entire city benefits from a revitalized core. Time and again, it's not the assortment of hotels and restaurants along Memorial Road or the swanky new shopping center at SW 104 and Pennsylvania that are shown to readers of out-of-state publications trumpeting Oklahoma City's transformation.

Time and again, both in print and in Reese's video, the new Okies spoke about downtown as being clean and safe, how they can afford to live in the heart of a vibrant central core where they can walk to work and be surrounded by restaurants, clubs, museums and entertainment venues.

This image, of course, really didn't exist a decade ago. But after enduring a massive case of collective low self-esteem throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Oklahoma City residents gambled that by re-investing in the inner-city they could rediscover what once made their community great. Challenges remain, of course, but as evidenced by the Reese's reporting, the boats meandering down the Bricktown Canal are telling a story that may do more for this city's economic future than we can yet imagine.

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