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
industry tanked. Our banking industry followed. Over a hundred banks went broke in Oklahoma in the 1980s. And coming out of that our leadership decided we have got to get more diverse. We identified aviation and the biomedical industries as sectors that we wanted to grow. We are also the region's tourism center. Ten years ago we had one downtown hotel and it wasn't doing well now we have seven, and they are full.

Q: Who are some of the employers that are actively hiring?

A: Boeing recently announced they are moving several hundred jobs to Oklahoma City. We believe this is the beginning of a long and very deep relationship with Boeing. The nearby Tinker Air Force Base has about 27,000 jobs associated with it. Boeing is part of that infrastructure. Boeing is continuing to grow and continuing to look at Oklahoma as one of the best places to do business.

Our cost of living is about 90% of the national average, and our wages are about 107% of the national average. That discretionary income adds to the quality of life. Because your housing prices are so low, you have money for restaurants and tickets to NBA games. And your housing dollar goes further in Oklahoma City than just about anywhere. When people see the quality and the size of the house they can own, that usually seals the deal. We have very good success in getting people to move to Oklahoma City after they've come to visit.

Q: How has your housing market held up so well?

A: We never had the housing bubble. In fact, we've had a fairly consistent growth rate about 5% which is decent growth, but not crazy growth. As a result, we didn't have the bubble, and we didn't have the downfall. Sales dropped a little bit, not necessarily in price, but just in activity over the last year or two. Your house might sit on the market a little bit longer. But I never saw prices retreat in the marketplace, and that is partially because they didn't escalate the way they did in other parts of the country.

Q: What are the biggest economic risks that Oklahoma City faces?

A: Traditionally if you went back a generation and you looked at commodities, you'd ask, ''How would Oklahoma City be affected?'' You would say, what is a barrel of oil and what's a bushel of wheat, and those would be two indicators of our economy. Today, it's what's a unit of natural gas because we have two of the largest natural-gas companies located in our

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