An American City That's Getting It Right

Mayor Mick Cornett explains how Oklahoma City turned into an economic success story during tough times.

Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 7:00 am By: Bob O'Brien Source: Barron's

Normally we use this space to offer up examples of investment success.

But given the crises that local governments have been facing, including declining tax rolls, rising demand for services, and widening budget gaps we decided to shine the spotlight on a city that is defying the national trends.

So hats off to Oklahoma City.

Known to many Americans as the site of the worst act of domestic terrorism before Sept. 11, the capital city of Oklahoma is rebranding itself with its economic success.

In the midst of a weak national economy, the city is experiencing job growth, a stable housing market, and increased infrastructure spending.

We spoke with the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, Mick Cornett serving his third term in office about the conditions that contribute to the community's success. Let's hope that other local political leaders can learn something from Cornett's words. Starting with the labor situation, unemployment in Oklahoma City is about three percentage points lower than it is for the national average. How have you done it? 

Cornett: It's 6.4%. We've been No. 1 [among cities] in 12 of the last 19 months. We have a huge amount of entrepreneurial activity. And the job creators the entrepreneurs are successful, because we have created this incredible quality of life. So the young and highly talented and educated 20-somethings are not only starting in Oklahoma, but they are actually moving here from California and Texas and other places.

So, if a job creator comes to Oklahoma City there is a talented workforce to grow their business. And there is just a very healthy economy in general. If you were to walk into the city today, you would see an amazing amount of construction, more construction then probably in a hundred years.

There is a skyscraper going up right across the street from City Hall. It sends a message of vitality to our citizens. Our own sales tax revenue is up over 10% the last two months. That's partially because 2009 was so lousy. But the other part of it is that it feels like the recession is over here.

Q: If people who aren't familiar with Oklahoma City thought about the employment base, they'd think, ''As goes the energy market, so must go Oklahoma City.'' But the fact is, there's a more-diversified base of employers than that.

A: That's right. In the 1980s we were very reliant on the energy industry, and we saw what happened. It started with the Penn Square banking scandal that went under. The energy

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